The Student Government Association traveled to Austin April 27-28 to bring attention to the issues of the name changes, affirmative action and deregulation of tuition practices, along with several other issues, with various politicians.
“We put a face to Sam Houston,” SGA President Helena L. Banks said. “A very diverse group.”
Banks said prior to the trip, the SGA received words of encouragement from a nearby political leader.
“Before we left we met with Raymond McNeel, county chair for a political party in Montgomery County,” Banks said. “He told us how much clout we have as students.”
SGA Secretary Jason Plotkin said the trip was intended to bring attention to mechanizations of state politics.
“The purpose of the trip was to talk to elected officials who vote on the issues that affect the students at SHSU as well as give a glimpse of how politics work at the state level to those involved in the student government,” Plotkin said.
One of the main issues the 21 members discussed was the Senate Bill 928, which concerns the possibility of the name change for many universities in Texas. The students spoke with Texas State University System Chancellor Lamar Urbanovsky, who Plotkin said is opposed to the name change. Despite the opposition, it seems unlikely SHSU’s name will stay the same if Southwest Texas State University receives a name change.
“In order to make all schools in the system equal, all names in the system would have to change,” Plotkin said.
Plotkin said in the event of the name change, Southwest Texas would become the de facto flagship school in the system because “perception is major,” and most people would perceive the school as the flagship
“We’re a unique system in the fact that there is no flagship,” Plotkin said. “The chancellor did say that if there was a name change, the names of Lamar and Sam Houston would stay intact one way or another because of their historical namesakes.”
Banks said along with Senate Bill 928, Urbanovsky also spoke about a research grant reform bill that seeks to change the amount of funds larger schools contribute to the state.
As of now, 80 percent of the funds generated from grants by schools such as Texas A&M and University of Texas stay at the school and the remaining 20 percent is collected by the state to be distributed to other universities.
There is talk about changing grant distribution so that the schools receiving the grant will get 100 percent of the money.
“The reason that’s bad is that the (20 percent) goes in the pot that funds us, and they want all the money,” Banks said.
The SGA members then spoke with Gerald Castillo, chief of staff for Rep. Eddie Rodriguez who discussed issues of affirmative action in institutions of higher education. Along with that, Banks said Castillo also spoke about the debate to alter the Texas Grant.
“We were talking about the Texas Grant GPA requirements changing from a 2.5 to a 3.0, and some people think that’s good because it’s raising the bar, but others think it will take money away from students who are already disadvantaged,” Banks said.
Banks also said the issue is a “double-edged sword” because not only will the requirements to receive the grant increase, but also the amount of money being offered will decrease.
SGA members also spoke with Sen. Jeff Wentworth, the representative whose constituents includes Southwest Texas State, and author of SB 928.
Plotkin said Wentworth is seeking to amend the bill so that Southwest Texas State’s new name will be Texas State University-San Marcos instead of “at San Marcos.”
“Basically, if he does it that way, he’s going around the Higher Education committee and going through the Administrative Committee, which he is a part of,” Plotkin said.
Banks said that she felt Wentworth was not willing to listen to anyone else’s reasoning on the issue, and that he did not think the name change was any of the SHSU SGA’s business, and it was his job as an elected official to make such decisions.
“We tried to explain to him that his bill did have unintended consequences and it would affect people outside his district, but he felt otherwise,” Banks said.
The next meeting was with Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of Huntsville. Banks said Kolkhorst was a big supporter of SHSU, and had many school banners and student pictures in her office.
“She was one of the best representatives Sam Houston has ever had,” Banks said. “She is well versed and has definitely done her homework on out district.”
Kolkhorst spoke to the SGA about House Bill 1961, a companion bill to SB 928 being run through the Texas House of Representatives to double the chance of the name change being passed. Along with the name change, the students spoke about tuition deregulation, and also discussed capital punishment with Kolkhorst staff member Chris Steinbach.
The SGA then met with Rep. Glenda Dawson, an SHSU alumna. The SGA explained to Dawson about HB1961, since she was unaware of its impact on SHSU, Banks said.
“She saw the bill and that it concerned Southwest Texas and didn’t think it affected Sam Houston,” Banks said. “She said she wanted all the information she could get.”
The final politician the SGA met with was Sen. Royce West, the chair of the Higher Education Committee.
Plotkin said one of the reasons West opposed the name change would be because it would “confuse the marketplace” by creating another school with initials TSU.
“You already have Texas Southern, Texas State and Tartleton State. It would just be another TSU.”
Banks said West “calmed our fears” about SB 928 by keeping the bill in committee indefinitely.
Junior Stanley Barr, who attended the trip, said he thought the experience was exciting.
“The high point was our meeting with Sen. West, and the low point, in my opinion, was our meeting with Sen. Wentworth,” Barr said.
Barr said Wentworth could have been more receptive to the SGA’s opinions on SB 928, and that he did not approve of Wentworth’s likening of the Board of Regents to a figurehead.
“He said they’re just an advising board,” Barr said. “He’s wrong. SHSU can not do anything administratively without their say-so.
“And I hope both his bills fail,” Barr added.
Banks said the trip to the State Capitol went well and that representatives and senators were, for the most part, cordial and willing to listen to what the students had to say.
“We accomplished so much for our students and our university, and our students represented the university very well,” Banks said.
The SGA will meet this evening to vote on several new pieces of school legislation.
“We’ll be submitting the senate’s opinion on the Alma Mater change, and we’re also voting on a bill regarding the parking situation in the area adjacent to Randel House,” Plotkin said. “Also, a bill on criminal background checks for SHSU faculty and staff, and lastly, election code revisions.”
Plotkin said the last bill would help better define the language of certain sections of the school’s election code.