Students vote to change Board term lengths, Saturday finals

Two Student Government Board referenda passed last week, aligning the Board’s term with the academic year and supporting a proposal to eliminate Saturday finals.

Out of 1,348 students who voted on the first referendum, 1,132 students — 84 percent of voters — supported basing SGB’s term on the academic year rather than the calendar year. Out of 1,720 students who voted on the second referendum, 1,530 students, or 89 percent of voters, supported the elimination of Saturday finals. 

The referenda went live online through Pitt Portal at midnight last Wednesday, and it closed at 11:59 p.m. on Friday. SGB President Mike Nites distributed the results via email to student groups Sunday night. 

To make up for the remaining half of the academic year, the 2015 Board will serve from January 2015 to April 2016 instead of ending its term the day before spring semester 2016. The 2016 Board’s term will then follow the regular academic year, beginning the end of April after the spring semester closes and end at the conclusion of the following spring semester. 

The change will align SGB with the University’s schedule, specifically University governing bodies such as the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Council and the Board of the Trustees. 

SGB annually appoints student representatives to both bodies, which already follow the academic year. Nites said there were problems in ensuring that students appointed to these positions by the previous Board were still attending meetings after a new Board took office.

The realignment will allow for more accountability as only one president will preside over the appointees, Nites said. 

Nites said the new term length is also closer to SGB’s fiscal year, which starts July 1 and ends on June 30 of the following year.

A memo in the election applications alerted candidates for the upcoming election about the possible year-and-a-half term length, Nites said.

Nites said since students graduating in December 2015 would not be able to run, the number of people who qualify for candidacy is lower, but the Board agreed that a year-and-a-half-long term would be preferable to a six-month term, an option the Board briefly discussed.

The Board will incorporate the results of the second referendum into a proposal to the University to eliminate Saturday finals. Nites said the Board does not yet have a timeline for when they will make the proposal.

Nites said he is meeting with Kathy Humphrey, dean and vice provost of students, this week to discuss appointing a student to the Academic Calendar Committee, the University committee that determines the academic calendar every year.

“We are going to try and get more student input on the committee and have our proposal go through that mechanism because they ultimately make the recommendation to the Provost Office,” Nites said. 

If the University accepts the proposal, finals would occur only Monday through Friday during finals week.

Each referendum needed three percent of the student body — roughly 600 students — to vote and then a simple majority of roughly 301 students voting affirmatively to pass. Approximately six percent of the student body voted in the first referendum, and approximately nine percent voted in the second referendum. 

Nites said he was pleased with the voter turnout. 

“I know it represents less than 10 percent of the student body, but I was personally pleased because they were not held during the normal election, so I didn’t expect to see 50 percent of the student body vote on them,” Nites said. 

Because there was a strong majority voting in favor of the referenda, Nites said he was confident the results accurately represented the student body’s opinion. 

“I’d be a little bit more nervous if it was 55/45, but since it was so overwhelming, I’m okay with the results,” Nites said. “At the end of the day, I know voting on constitutional changes isn’t the most interesting thing, so I’m glad about the amount of students who voted.”