Inside Mizzou: MSA – The Path of Student Legislation

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Illustration of Truman the Tiger on the steps of Jesse, with signs supporting MSADecember 3, 2019

Student government is a more than 100-year tradition at Mizzou — that’s older than Memorial Stadium or even our beloved mascot, Truman the Tiger. The Missouri Students Association (MSA) is one of the largest student government organizations on campus, and it represents undergraduates from across the disciplines. MSA members contribute to standing committees alongside faculty and staff and pass legislation that helps guide our university’s collective future.

Join Chancellor Cartwright on this week’s Inside Mizzou podcast as he talks with two MSA leaders: President Jennifer Sutterer, a senior double majoring in political science and philosophy; and Senate Speaker Jacob Addington, a senior majoring in journalism. They discuss the ins and outs of the legislative process as well as the many unique ways MSA contributes to life at Mizzou.

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Moderator: [00:00:10] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Inside Mizzou — real stories, real discoveries and real impact of the Mizzou community. This episode is called “Path of Student Legislation.” Mizzou’s undergraduate student government, the Missouri Students Association, or MSA, has existed in some form for over 100 years. And throughout that hundred years, MSA has had a major impact on the university. An impact that includes many pieces of important legislation that our students write and pass. From the outside looking in, the processes and procedures of student government can seem a bit complicated. So today, we’re going to break that down a bit. Joining Chancellor Cartwright are, Jacob Addington, the Senate Speaker for MSA who’s a senior majoring in journalism, and Jennifer Sutterer, the President of MSA, who’s a senior double majoring in political science and philosophy. Jacob and Jennifer are going to help us track the journey of Senate Bill 59-03, which would expand the role of first-year students in MSA. We’ll get to see how a piece of legislation evolves from an idea, to a working document and finally to a plan in action, as well as get a better sense of MSA’S overall contributions to our university and community. So thank you all for being here to help us do that.

Jennifer Sutterer: [00:01:33] Thanks for having us.

Jacob Addington: [00:01:35] So, Jake, you are the primary author of Bill 59-03. Tell us a bit more about its background and why this bill is so important.

Jacob Addington: [00:01:42] Yeah. So this bill was created in light of the creation of our Freshman Council. So we created a freshman council last year to really build leadership skills amongst freshmen that are coming into MSA and help them to kind of understand the procedure and background and history of MSA as well. MSA is a very complex and difficult organization to learn, you know, how you know, like what your places is in it and how you can actually do things through MSA. So we realize the need to develop leadership skills and make sure that people were aware of our procedure, how things work, things like that. And we also recognized the need to build leaders on campus. We really wanted to have a pipeline and a sense of leaders who could take over in MSA and prepare leaders across campus. So even if people don’t stay with MSA, they can still have that leadership experience and, you know, be able to take those skills with them and impact whatever part of campus that they are looking to join later on in their college career.

Moderator: [00:02:48] Okay. Awesome. Walk us through the process 59-03 must go through before it is approved or rejected.

Jacob Addington: [00:02:56] So, whenever a bill is written, you have to get co-sponsors. That’s the first step. You have to have, since this bill is an act, you have to have 30 percent of our senate membership sign-on to the bill. So that’s step one. And then it is sent to me as the Senate Speaker and then I assign it to a committee. Since this bill is an act and it’s changing our rules and procedures, it goes to our Operations Committee. Our Operations Committee then hears the legislation. “Hearing” is just like a fancy word to say, they talk about the legislation and decide whether or not they like it. If the committee does like it, they will pass it out of committee and it will go to full senate. If they don’t like it, they can say no. And, you know, it stops at that committee. They can also make changes in the committee, so if they like the overall concept, but if they don’t like, you know, a phrase or they think that something’s missing from it, they can add that as a committee substitute and then send that bill to full senate. Once it goes to full senate, the whole body will hear the legislation. So they’ll be able to talk through the pros, the cons, what they like about it, what they think could be improved. Again, they can make changes and then pass a final version so they can amend the legislation on the floor and then make changes to it and then pass it. Or they can pass it as is. So if they like it, how exactly it comes to them, then they can pass it. And once MSA passes it, then it goes to the MSA President for their approval. If it does fail in full senate, then it is, it’s done. So it doesn’t go further.

Moderator: [00:04:43] Wow, so that’s it. It has to go through a lot to get approved, basically?

Jacob Addington: [00:04:47] There is quite a bit for us to ensure, you know, that every idea is really thought out. We don’t want to add anything that isn’t necessary. We don’t want to make changes that aren’t going to truly benefit and impact the student body in some way.

Moderator: [00:05:05] No, definitely understandable. So kind of changing course here. Jen, we’ve talked about the role of the MSA legislative branch plays in this process. What about the executive branch? How do you all factor in as bills move along?

Jennifer Sutterer: [00:05:18] Well, thank you, Stephen. I would say that the structure of MSA is actually set up pretty similarly to that of the U.S. government. So, like the executive branch, we can work closely on, with senate members on initiatives and resolutions during the legislative process, but it’s really all behind the scenes until they vote. So once a piece of legislation passes senate, it will come to my desk and I have 10 days to either approve the legislation or veto it. So if I choose to veto it, it will go back to senate and they can override my veto with a three-fifths voting majority. However, if I don’t approve or veto it, then the legislation will pass and it will become valid. However, when we say valid, that doesn’t mean it becomes an official university policy just yet. So this is really where the role of the executive branch steps in. Our job is to take these approved policy measures and present them to administration and the student body and advocate for their passage and also working to execute these measures into practice. So typically, this entails us meeting with administration like the Chancellor, advocating for these measures and collaborating with other student leaders and organizations and really just communicating openly and effectively with the student body.

Moderator: [00:06:41] And so can you talk a little bit about how this bill aligns with your broader version for MSA this year?

Jennifer Sutterer: [00:06:47] Sure. So I really believe that all organizations have to continuously grow and self-improve. And MSA is no exception to that. So this year we didn’t want to just rebrand on a service level. We wanted to make reforms that were really impactful to MSA and how we can work with our community and student body. So I think in respect to that, this bill allows us to include all new students, not just freshmen, into our council. And that’s a place where we can really help them develop their leadership and professional skills and hopefully inspire them to use their talents to make our community a better place. I’m a really firm believer in leaving places better than where you found them. And so this committee, I think, can really instill that belief in its members, even if they do end up leaving MSA, as Jake said earlier. And I think on a more personal note, Jake and I are seniors. And so our time here at Mizzou is coming to a close, unfortunately. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy recently, and I see my legacy as the next generation of student leaders. And so having this type of committee, I think allows us to impart our advice and wisdom on these future leaders that could potentially be in our positions one day and be the face of the students at the university.

Moderator: [00:08:08] That was actually gonna be my next question, as far as legacy. So, Jake, I want you to kind of add in on that as well. On what do you feel like, not necessarily personally as an individual, but things you’ve been able to be a part of, how do you feel like that plays into any kind of legacy you may have wanted to leave as you get ready to leave the university?

Jacob Addington: [00:08:27] So when I started MSA as a freshman, there was a lot of challenges that we had to overcome. So I think that was the biggest legacy that I wanted to leave was, like Jen said, making it better than we found it. So taking an organization that was very focused internally and trying to do our best to advocate for students across campus, no matter their background, no matter their experience, because that is such an important thing to make sure that student government is actually representing the students that have elected us and the students that we are called to serve. And I think this council goes into that idea because, this council started last year and we really wanted to ensure that it continued on because we’ve seen such positive benefits from it already with people getting a lot of leadership experience and being able to take that to other organizations, not just MSA. And that’s such an important thing for all of us to be striving for, because it, it’s great if we can make MSA better, but it’s a completely different story when we’re able to make the campus as a whole better. And I think that’s definitely what we’ve tried to do. And I’m hoping that that legacy continues on long after we leave.

Moderator: [00:09:43] Definitely. And so, Chancellor Cartwright, I think one of the most important things we’re talking about today is how MSA encourages students to take ownership of Mizzou’s future. Why is this sense of ownership so vital to our university and our community?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:09:57] You know, I think you heard it really well from both Jen and Jake. It’s hard for me to add much. I think it is the concept of, how do you make this institution better? The voice of the people that matter the most are students. We’re here to educate. We’re here to help people to be successful in the future. And part of that is making sure the environment is one that everybody’s proud to be a part of. So being part of student government helps with the leadership. It helps also to make sure that we continue to have a dialogue that is productive for what is best for the students when they’re here. We have a number of standing committees, 30, there are a lot of Chancellor’s Standing Committees that MSA has the opportunity to appoint people to those committees. And what that does is it allows us as we move forward on things that we’re trying to do as an institution, that there are students in the room when those decisions are being made and they’re able to contribute to what’s best for the student population. I think it’s critical that you have a big enough group that is really thinking about the voices of everybody on the campus. Right? All of our different constituents, all of the different students that are here and connecting to all of the other organizations in some way, that then that all rolls up and informs what we’re doing. So it’s amazing to to hear them talk about what this really means for the future of Mizzou.

Moderator: [00:11:31] And so how does the university work collectively with MSA and all of our more than 500 student organizations to move Mizzou forward?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:11:39] Yeah. You know, when I got here, one of the things that I changed was to add student groups to my regular group of people that I meet with. Right? There are people on my cabinet, which includes our vice chancellors and but also student leaders, graduate students, undergraduate students, that actually changes the perspective of everybody in the room when were discussing different topics because we can have the input from at least a few students during the time when we’re, when we’re talking about what we’ll be doing. And I think having the opportunity then to meet with a number of different group leaders, leaders from different student groups and discussing what we’re doing, and we try to do that fairly regularly, but once a month to once every couple of months with a larger group of people and to think about what are the challenges on the campus. Right? You don’t know all of the challenges when you’re not living them. Right? You know, I live in the residence, but I’m not in the student body all the time. And it’s useful to actually have the perspective of what someone is experiencing at Mizzou so that we can then make the changes that are necessary to ensure that people have a place that’s welcoming, that they feel that they can excel. And that’s really what it’s about.

Moderator: [00:13:05] So with bills like Senate Bill 59-03, do you feel like MSA is moving in a great direction and will continue to, you know, create legislation like that and create other legislation that will be great for the student body?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:13:19] Yeah. You know, one of the things you always want to think about, and Jen and Jake both articulated this really well, is that how do you think about the leaders of the future? How do you encourage people to be more engaged? The importance of having people that are thinking about what should the institution be doing and advocate appropriately for changes that may be needed. So, yes, anything we can do to expand the experiences of our students, to give them more opportunity to be leaders not only is good for this institution, but certainly helps all the students that are involved in the future when they go out and work at other places. And they’ll be those leaders then also.

Moderator: [00:14:03] Okay. So a question for everyone. We’ve been talking a lot about building a stronger future for all of our students. So if each of you could give us one word or phrase that defines your vision for the Mizzou student experience, what would that be?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:14:17] I’ll let them go first.

Jennifer Sutterer: [00:14:20] I’ll start. So I actually reflect a lot on the values of our institution. And so picking from one of those, I think my favorite might be excellence. So I think in terms of student experience on this campus, that could apply in regards to academic excellence, institutional excellence, excellence in our social community, our interactions, our aspirations. I think that people do have high expectations for Mizzou, and that is simply because they recognize our abilities and potential. So even when our university faces challenges like every university does, I do believe that with the leadership and passion in the community that we have here at Mizzou, we can exceed expectations.

Jacob Addington: [00:15:12] For me, whenever I first heard this question, the word that resonated with me was passion. Passion for making Mizzou a better place. Passion for getting involved. Passion for your fellow students. Just that desire to really want to leave something better than you found it like we were saying earlier and having that desire to really just help those around you and get involved in a way that you maybe not have been involved before. And because of that, you learn about new things, you get new experiences, and it just makes you such a better, and more well-rounded person. And, you know, like there’s so much tradition at Mizzou. Mizzou is such a great place to have a passion instilled in you and to find your own passions. So for me, that that would be the word.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:09] Well, I love both of those words: excellence and passion. Certainly those really are reflective of what we want to have here at Mizzou. I’ll probably go with a phrase. And that is, I want people to have access to opportunity in an inclusive environment. I want everybody to know that they, that there’s so many different things that are available here at Mizzou that can help you as you move along your career, help you when you’re here as a student, and that we want to ensure that everybody knows that they can take advantage of those. Right. And that that they feel that this is their home. And if we can do that, then people will feel like they can walk into faculty members offices and walk in and talk to advisors and work with people around financial aid and all of the different things that they may need to think about and understand that everybody is here to help, that we’re all part of that same team, that we all value each other and respect each other. So how do we ensure that everybody has that ability to be incredibly successful?

Moderator: [00:17:22] I think those words in that phrase really sum up what the university stands for and what it strives for at the end of the day. So thank you all for being with us today and discussing this. Now, there’s just one more thing to do before we leave.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:17:35] We’re all looking forward to this.

Moderator: [00:17:38] Where does a cow hang its paintings?

Jennifer Sutterer: [00:17:43] I have no idea.

Moderator: [00:17:48] In a moo-seum.

Everyone: [00:17:49] (Laughter)

Moderator: [00:17:57] Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is composed by MU master’s student, Niko D. Schroeder, and performed by the Donald Sinta Quartet. You can find more information about Niko, the Quartet and their piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time to stay on top of what’s happening at Mizzou. Thanks for joining us on this episode. See you around the Columns!