Senate addresses state of USG, budget

Senators discussed and then passed several amendments to the body’s constitution.  

USG president Divya Jakatdar delivered her state of USG address Tuesday, in which she praised her administration’s accomplishments. (Henry Kofman / Daily Trojan)

The Undergraduate Student Government met Tuesday night to hear from outgoing president Divya Jakatdar and to pass their budget for the 2024-25 academic year. The senate also approved amendments to the USG constitution and passed a resolution supporting the Trojan Knights and USC Helenes.

In her speech, Jakatdar said her administration entered with high aspirations but pivoted in response to realities on the ground.

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“From the beginning, our strategy was to shoot for the stars and bring on a team of astronauts. Some people thought and, indeed, verbalized our goals were too unrealistic, and honestly, that’s fair. We were an ambitious administration,” Jakatdar said.

She praised the administration’s work to support commuter students with a second RestSC location in the Library for International and Public Affairs, the installation of medical supply vending machines at USC Village and the Royal Street Parking Structure, and efforts to streamline funding requirements for recognized student organizations. 

Jakatdar also spoke about efforts to run return shuttles from Los Angeles International Airport after school breaks and the expansion of Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success into the Undocumented Trojan Success Assembly.

Talking about issues her administration faced, Jakatdar spoke about the impacts of global political events on campus. She described listening sessions with students and working to connect student concerns with administrators. Jakatdar explained the decision to move senate meetings online as well as the hiring of a therapist for the Middle Eastern North African Student Assembly.

“Our work was not exclusive to those initiatives listed in our platform points. We learned to meet the moment,” Jakatdar said. “We’re not isolated from the rest of the world, and we wish we could protect our students from the pain of the world, but the pain penetrated our campus like many others across the country and globe. It took us several tries to figure out how to navigate this best, and we’re still learning.”

Jakatdar said her administration had learned to collect data to present to campus administrators to bolster their efforts. She thanked the organization and expressed her hopes for the coming administration.

“[The state of USG] is a state of joy,” Jakatdar said, in closing. “It’s still the place to be for good purpose and for great people.”

Just prior to the state of USG address, chief communications officer Mustafa Ali Khan read a statement from the executive cabinet expressing support for Valedictorian Asna Tabassum. Provost Andrew Guzman announced on Monday that Tabassum would not be delivering a speech at commencement, citing safety concerns.

“This decision casts a shadow over what should be a joyous occasion, as we believe graduation represents a celebration of achievements, rather than a time to undermine that,” Khan said. “We implore our administrators to provide greater transparency behind the reasoning for revoking her current platform for valedictory speech. The reasoning, as it stands, is insufficient and ambiguous.”

Senate Aide Alexa Dadson urged the incoming senate to pass a resolution urging the provost to reinstate the valedictorian speech. She said while safety is a valid concern, the University has the ability to protect students, and they had succumbed to pressure from outside groups.

The senate’s other focus was approval of the 2024-25 budget. The senate had tabled the budget approval last week in order to allow further discussion between the incoming administration and programming assemblies. Chief programming officer-designate Hunter Black said a minority of the programming assemblies had met with him over the past week.

The budget introduced this week included $5,000 more allocated to the Native American Student Assembly compared with the previous week. The funds were drawn from the Administration Fund, Bystander Intervention Training Fund, Philanthropy Fund and the Senate Allocations Reserve.

Black said that in the last week, NASA showed they had fully depleted their annual funds and had looked for grants from outside organizations.

“The new information that was presented [to] us about NASA, it showed that they had fully exhausted their budget, and they had worked extensively to find innovative means, and it did present the need that their assembly did need an increase to accommodate for this,” Black said.

The senate agenda had included a bill to allocate an additional $1,000 to the Transfer Student Assembly, but the bill was pulled at the beginning of the meeting. Senators said they pulled the bill because they believed the budget already included that funding increase.

Upon realizing TSA would not get additional funds, senators explored drawing funds from the Development Fund as well as the Concerts Committee but did not allocate any additional funds. 

“We can workshop with Concerts on finding sponsors for them or sponsorships for them, and making sure that they have the opportunity to account for that,” Black said. “But also necessarily because of the question of where does this [funding] actually go to. We would have to meet with [TSA] and see how this could be distributed.”

The senate also amended their constitution. Major changes to the bylaws included reducing the number of justices from eight to five and imposing one-year terms on justices, refining procedures for disciplining officers and encouraging consultation with advocacy liaisons on topics relevant to their communities.

The senate struck down efforts to allow reclassification of programming assemblies and committees and an amendment to clarify the process to remove the speaker of the senate. The former was opposed by professional staff and defeated despite votes in favor by senators Brandon Tavakoli and Bryan Fernandez.

Two weeks ago, the senate struggled to conduct a disciplinary hearing against Tavakoli when they found no definition of “censure” in the bylaws. Last semester, then-speaker of the senate Emilia Bletsas resigned from the senate to study abroad.

The senate also passed an amendment allowing for closed sessions. This allows senators to take a confidential vote if two-thirds of senators favor it. In this case, only the result will be announced by the parliamentary secretary. Chief of staff David Martinez said the amendment was made at the advice of professional staff but declined to name the specific circumstances that had led to the introduction of the bill. Tavakoli was the sole nay vote on the amendment.

Earlier in the meeting, the senate passed a resolution co-authored by a member of the Trojan Knights. The bill supports efforts by the Knights and USC Helenes to camp by Tommy Trojan and Hecuba, respectively, during USC-UCLA rivalry week. The senate also approved programming directors for the International Student Assembly, Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment, and the Queer and Ally Student Assembly. 

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