When UW-Parkside’s Residence Hall Association passed their new key –in policy two weeks ago, many students voiced opposition. However, the largest form of opposition came from Parkside Student Government, whose principal criticism with the new legislation was not with the policy itself; rather, with the nature in which it was created. The subsequent weeks became a legislative battle between two governing Parkside bodies, which nearly resulted in the involvement of the District Attorney.
After RHA’s key-in policy passed, a few students expressed what they felt were inequities in RHA’s policy and way of operating meetings. Speaker of the Senate, Amanda Barber, considered the complaints from her constituents and referred to the Wisconsin State statutes.
“When students come to us, as several have, with concerns about RHA not complying with state law yet still enacting policy over the students, then we have to insist that they comply,” said Barber.
Under the Wisconsin State statute about Open Meetings, all organizations are required to post their agendas 24 hours in advanced to their meetings. This statue also requires organizations to post their minutes for the public. Due to RHA’s incompliance with Wisconsin State statues, all policies that they have passed this semester are null and void until RHA re-votes on the issues.
RHA Vice President Jennifer Trucks explained the miscommunication as RHA’s misunderstanding of their duties under the Open Meeting statute. She also explained that RHA primarily focus on their adherence to Wisconsin United Residence Hall Association, or WURHA constitution.
“PSG found out that we were not posting our agendas 24 hours in advance. Though we have agendas, we just had not posted them for the public,” said Trucks. “I feel that is the main miscommunication between the two organizations,”
After Wednesday, 30 November’s senate meeting, RHA and PSG seem to have settled most of the discrepancy as RHA’s misinterpretation of Wisconsin State statute. Barber no longer intends on writing a letter to the District Attorney, as long as RHA agrees to comply with the Open Meetings statute. RHA is working towards compliance with state policy, and the nullified policies are to be voted on again next semester.
“To me, it’s not an issue between the two organizations; it is more that RHA, from what I have gathered from students who live on campus, has never complied with the open meetings law,” said Barber. “It is good that they have sole and full responsibility to formulate residence policy, but if they are going to exercise that option, then they have to become compliant with what the state law is.”
Though PSG and RHA are two very different organizations, both have the same primary goal of serving their constituents. And, though they have different functions, the two do have a connection. Infact, RHA is a part of Residence Life, which falls under Student Life, a PSG subcommittee. Though they have this connection, PSG affirms that their intentions are not to tell RHA how to run their organization; rather, they would like to make sure they abide state policy.
“There has been a misunderstanding that Parkside Student Government is telling them how to run their meetings, but it’s not that,” said Barber. “It is us insisting that they comply with state law, because students, even resident students, are our constituents as well.”
“Though we do pass things and act as a governing body, [PSG] wants us to be a full, governing body where we run things to a tee,” said Trucks. “From our standpoint, we have never really run things that strict due to the fact that we do more than just pass policies that pertain to residents.
Part of PSG’s criticism of RHA is in their low number of representatives, as well as the fact that many of their representatives either have or will become members of Residence Life. As a result of both the lack of public agendas and the low numbers of representatives, PSG believes that only a small margin of the student body remains informed about policy.
“I think that RHA needs to cut the umbilical cord from Residence Life, “ said Parliamentarian Dave Wilson. “I think that RA’s should not have seats just by virtue of being RA’s, because right now, it is just a nepotistic circle of self-appointment to leadership positions, and in the end, nothing actually gets done. I think that they could get a lot more done as far as policy and representations if they open themselves up to open elections,”
Barber also suggested open elections and referendums to inform the student residents of potential policies. Though RHA sent out an email about the potential key-in policy passing prior to the meeting, PSG still feels as though RHA does not represent its constituents as well as it should. Moreover, they expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of information provided to residents on crucial rules policies.
Trucks said that low representation from students, particularly in the Suites and Apartments, is due to conflicting PAB events and a general lack of interest. As the year has progressed, the numbers of floor representatives have dwindled. Trucks says that RHA encourages both residents and nonresidents to attend, though nonresidents cannot participate in voting. If residents are interested in having a say in RHA policies that are directly relevant to all residents, RHA encourages these students to attend the weekly meetings. These meetings are held on Tuesdays and 8:30pm. The final RHA meeting of the semester will be held on Tuesday, December 6. In compliance with the Wisconsin State Statutes, students can also find RHA agendas and meeting minutes on the Campus Connect website.
If residents are interested in voicing an opinion or voting on any of the semester’s earlier policies, including the key-in policy, RHA plans to once again vote on these issues starting in the semester of Spring 2012.