Transparency should be USG’s next focus

Just last week, the Daily Trojan reported that Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry had begun holding regular office hours to facilitate conversations with any student who decides to come in and voice their concerns.

The announcement provides increased access to high-level administrators — a welcome development to break down the monolith that is “the administration” here at USC and to increase transparency between officials and students. And as Undergraduate Student Government elections come to a close Thursday, it’s important that the new USG president, vice president and Senate put transparency on the agenda to continue to improve access to the administration and the crucial conclusions often made behind closed doors.

Administrative transparency, while important on its own to establish trust with students, also plays an instrumental role in pushing other initiatives — many of which have historically failed in USG administrations past. Tuition freeze advocacy is an excellent example — though USG passed a college affordability resolution that advocated for a tuition freeze last semester, no such freeze materialized. Moreover, advocacy and awareness efforts are limited by a restricted understanding of the allocation of tuition — as student leaders told the Daily Trojan in November, the University’s confusing and vague financial reports provided an impetus to include an interactive tuition spending report in the resolution. From an advocacy standpoint, the undecipherable reports also likely provide little foundation from which to raise specific tuition concerns and make recommendations. And since the University has not worked to implement an outright tuition freeze, perhaps it is more prudent to start USG tuition advocacy with transparency — giving students the tools to understand where tuition goes and to better explain tuition hikes.

Transparency goes beyond tuition conversations. It’s hard to see how candidates that push strong positions on opaque administrative decisions — like divestment — can actually succeed with their proposals when the University’s investment decisions are nearly impossible to discern and available financial information is severely limited. And it’s difficult to push for initiatives such as improving health and nutrition on campus when dining halls still do not make nutrition information public. Opaqueness on the part of the administration has created a lack of student advocacy on issues like security, finances and privacy — essential conversations that students deserve to have a voice in and that other student governments across the country have participated in.

Carry’s new office hours will probably not enable all advocacy which appeared impossible beforehand — but the step is a commendable beginning to increasing transparency and frank communication which extends beyond Provost Michael Quick’s memorandums and issue-specific open forums. University administrators should seize this unique moment to continue to open dialogues with students about administrative decisions. This means expanding office hours to other administrators, like Quick, making an active effort to make these conversations honest and productive and providing students with more information about decisions that affect their education.

At the same time, of course, students can’t mistake conversations about improving student life for actual improvements to student life created by concrete policy changes. Hopefully, increasing avenues for conversation between students and administrators will also increase advocacy, but this will only occur if these hours are also used as a vehicle to maintain organizational accountability.

Luckily, upcoming presidential and vice presidential tickets both have transparency in mind, albeit in different ways — the Edwin-Austin platform focuses on transparency between students and student organizations, while the Henriquez-Pham platform concentrates on the USC administration. And though the Daily Trojan Editorial Board, of which I am a party to, recently endorsed the Edwin-Austin ticket, both of these goals are important to laying a groundwork to improve the efficiency of advocacy as a whole.

USG elections end Thursday, and soon Trojans will find out who will champion students’ interests among the administration. Let’s hope that our new leaders can provide a map to students on Trousdale Parkway to navigate the labyrinth of university officials in Bovard Auditorium just a few feet away.

Sonali Seth is a sophomore majoring in political science and policy, planning, development. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. “’SC, What’s Good?” runs every other Thursday.