The Oklahoma Student Government Association is a statewide organization that holds regular meetings once a semester for colleges and universities from around the state. TU sent Colleen Yoder, Kelly Scrivner, Saswat Das, Sheridan Nolen, Haley Anderson and Kaitlyn McKee to this year’s Congress. Many of the representatives only attended one out of the two days: March 24 and 25.
The purpose of the event is for student leaders from the several attending schools to discuss common issues that they are having on their campuses. There are senate hearings over proposed legislation on the first day and then senate voting and amending on the second. Resolutions that are passed by OSGA are passed up to Oklahoma state legislators who then propose laws based on OSGA suggestions.
Two TU representatives proposed resolutions; however, Yoder’s was the only one to make it to the floor for a vote. Yoder’s proposal focused on developmental classes which are required for students who score poorly on pre-college testing or need remedial assistance.
Yoder was hearing from students that these classes were helpful for the first couple of weeks, but after that the class was no longer useful and was a waste of their semester. Their concerns were made greater by the fact that the courses were mandatory and they were paying regular tuition price for them, but they would not receive course credit.
She explained that this is a particularly significant issue for returning students because it could persuade them not to return. “They have to spend a whole year trying to get caught up before they can start taking their actual classes,” she said.
Yoder researched effective ways to conduct developmental courses and ended up concluding that developmental courses should be given as a concurrently requisite subset, “almost like how we do labs for Calc 2.”
“You have your main class, and then you go to lab, which is a little bit smaller of a group where you can have one on one interaction, ask questions and make sure that you’re keeping up to date. It’s the same idea for these classes, but they would go into their first level English classes and then once or twice a week they would meet outside of that class time with a TA or professor to make sure that they are able to keep up with the classes’ natural progression,” she explained.
By incorporating the courses in this way, Yoder hopes to alleviate the problem of students not receiving credit when they first go into college. Yoder’s resolution passed 40 to 2 with 7 abstentions, “so it passed by a wide margin which was really awesome to watch happen,” she enthused.
Nolen also wrote a proposal; however, it didn’t make it to the floor. “We don’t get to talk about all the bills that we write sometimes, just because there are so many,” Yoder said. “I’m encouraging her to resubmit it in the fall, so we’ll see,” she added.
The controversy Yoder faced was not with her proposal, but with routine amendments she requested the OSGA members make to other resolutions that were proposed. “Historically everyone has understood that public and private are very different entities,” Yoder said. Because of this distinction, Yoder requested that OSGA change the language on some bills that said “all” or “every” college and university to “public” colleges and universities.
Her proposal received mixed reactions from those in attendance. Naomi Roman, an RSU student, shared her apprehension with Yoder’s opposition to having these potential rules apply on her campus.
Roman highlighted one resolution in particular where she felt Yoder’s amendment was unwarranted. The resolution, written by Traeton Dansby of NSU, proposed implementing trigger warnings on class syllabi for students impacted with PTSD and other mental disorders. The measure passed with added language that it be implemented as a state-wide policy.
During the amendment period Yoder came forward and asked that the wording be changed to specify public institutions. During this period Yoder was open to questioning by everyone else in attendance.
While describing the situation Roman said, “We ran out of questions and we were getting really into it. Not really talking about the bill itself anymore, but trying to figure out why she wanted to do it for just public universities.”
“We thought that this bill would be great for all universities, so we had no idea why she didn’t want this in her own school,” Roman explained.
“There are certain schools who don’t show up to these conferences at all, there are some private schools that don’t show up, and I feel like Yoder wanted to take it upon herself to vote for the other private schools that weren’t there, but she’s a rep from [TU] so she should only be voting for [TU]. At least that’s my understanding of it,” Roman continued.
During the Q&A period which focused on Yoder’s amendments, she was reportedly asked by a student from NSU, “Well why are you even here then?”
Yoder was also told by an unidentified student from TCC that TU should stop coming to OSGA if they don’t want OSGA resolutions to apply to them.
Yoder’s response to these challenges was to emphasize the distinction between public and private schools. Yoder felt it was important to emphasize this as one of only two Oklahoma private schools in attendance, the other being St. Gregory.
“It’s really hard for public institutions to understand that not everything applies to private institutions, and that we are unique in that way,” Yoder said.
This isn’t a particularly new thing for the TU representative to the OSGA to express concern about. “A couple years back, it’s forever burned in my memory, Michael Mancini (SA President 2014-2015) wrote a bill for OSGA that essentially said we were against a bill that said private universities had to have rules regarding guns on campus,” Yoder reported.
Yoder expressed that the bill wasn’t a bad idea — “in fact it is a great idea. TU already has [policies regarding guns] in place because it’s a very logical thing to do, but what we were standing against is that the state has no right to come into these private institutions and tell us how to run things.”
Yoder explained that the board of regents who oversees higher education in Oklahoma really only has oversight in public universities. Yoder now serves as the only private school member on the student advisory board for the board of regents. The board oversees curriculum and passes rules on funding for courses. Public colleges and universities that receive state funding have significant oversight on the state level.
Yoder said that because TU is privately funded, “if we get any state money it is solely for research and it’s earmarked for that … It’s very specific funding, it’s never for classes or for our campus. It’s essentially as if they were contracting with a private company.”
“The easiest way I can break it down in my mind is that it is the difference between the state not being able to come into your home and say you have to cook dinner at five or that you can’t play loud music after nine within your home, but they do have that right when it comes to a public park,” she added.
Yoder related that “any of the bills I tried to make this amendment to, it wasn’t that I disagreed with their sentiment. They were all really great bills I feel, but the difference between public and private needs to be established.”
Yoder also responded to remarks about TU’s presence at OSGA given that any actions that state takes would not apply to us. “We attend OSGA because we want to support higher education in general,” she said. “I think it’s important to support our colleagues in other universities and colleges and say, we stand with you on these issues. So we feel like TU being present has that emphasis of, look TU attended and they still agree with this, the state needs to fix it on this level.”
Not everyone was opposed to Yoder’s reasoning. Tyrance Billingsley, a student from TCC, said that he understood why OSGA’s resolutions and suggestions should not apply to private institutions, but did express uncertainty about why “public” would have to be explicitly written on the documents given that the board of regents is well aware that it has no jurisdiction over private institutions.
Yoder responded to this concern as well. “I felt like when we were sending these things onto the state level, they may be good intentioned bills, and awesome in what they do, but just sending them and saying ‘all universities and colleges’,” could be potentially problematic. Especially “when legislators know that TU and St. Gregory are showing up at these things. We are indirectly sending the signal that ‘all and every’ is fine wording for them to use and impose, which then does implicate TU and other private universities,” she explained.
As an example, Yoder’s resolution explicitly states that it is for public colleges and universities. She asserted, “I think it would be helpful for TU and other private schools too, it’s just that we don’t want the state imposing it on us.”
Yoder has been going to these events every semester since she was a freshman, with the exclusion of last fall when she was studying abroad. Despite the confusion at this most recent Congress, Yoder enjoys these events because, “we get to come together and have open discussions with schools across the state and talk about things that are affecting us. While the laws don’t necessarily affect us directly, within campus life we face many of the same issues, like how to create more diverse programing and how we include more students.”
Yoder is looking forward to continuing to work with these schools in her new position on the student advisory board.