SGA’s petition for Nov.3 non-instructional day denied
By Shirley Bright
There is a move across college campus to recognize Election Day as a student holiday. Student governments want to give the students an opportunity to involve themselves with the political process. UHD Student Government Association has joined in support of this idea, creating a resolution that petitioning for the Election Day to be recognized as an academic holiday.
Tamir Harper of American University believes that she has lived through everything – she has seen wars, 9/11, the pandemic and now, this historic presidential election. In September, she began petitioning for 2020 Election Day to be recognized as an academic holiday at American University. In October, American University accepted the petition, joining Brown University, Colorado, and the University of Utah in recognizing Nov. 3 an academic holiday.
UHD SGA President Alan Timoteo Modrow indicated that as of the last faculty senate meeting in October, the resolution had passed from SGA into UHD faculty senate. The fine-tuning of the resolution called for a non-instructional day on even-numbered years on the first Tuesday after Nov. 1. It would not be an official academic holiday but a non-instructional day. This would be an opportunity for the full-time students with jobs and other obligations, to vote and participate in other civic duties.
On Oct 20, the SGA presented the resolution to the Faculty Senate. It passed 27-0, and was sent to the UHD’s Office of the President. The resolution was rejected by the president’s office on Oct. 23. In a last minute effort to have this resolution reconsidered by the president’s office before Nov. 3, there was a second vote via Qualtrics on Oct. 30. These votes from the Faculty Senate were 10 for the resolution, 11 against with 3 abstaining.
In response to questions concerning a student holiday for civic engagement, the interim president’s office emphasized the amount of time students have to participate in early voting. Texas had 3 weeks of early voting this year. There were over 100 polling stations and 50 of those were located outside the beltway, which is where the largest number of UHD students reside. At the end of those early voting days, there were also 8 stations providing 24-hour voting.
Modrow was aware of this information and stated the resolution from the SGA was about more than simply having enough time to vote. SGA wanted the students to have opportunities to volunteer on Election Day by working the polls, block walking or even phone banking for those they supported. He believes civic engagement was about more than casting a ballot.
The interim president’s office emailed Gators on Oct. 26 encouraging students and faculty to get out and vote early.
“Citizens in Harris County, Texas, have had the opportunity to cast ballots since Tuesday, October 13th. For 18 uninterrupted days at over 122 voting locations located as far north as Tomball, Texas, and as far south as Webster, Texas…”
Yet the email makes no mention of civic engagement beyond casting a ballot.
The president’s office did not reply to questions concerning the potential challenges of full-time students who are also working full-time when trying to vote or civically engage. There was also no response to the reasoning of students of a disenfranchised group or other civic engagement activities. The president’s office strictly focused on the amount of time given in this current year to have an opportunity to vote.
As indicated by the clear non-verbal cues of the senators’ faces, the rejection was filled with sourness. There was not a rally against the president, but there were some disappointments to the language in the rejection of the original resolution. Senators found the words from Dr. Tillis to be “disturbing” and “dismissive.”
Although there was not a student academic holiday on Election Day 2020, the future of an academic holiday for the 2024 election (and beyond) is still undecided. Senator Rachael Hudspeth, Biology Lecturer, felt it was urgent to frame a response because early voting days this year were based on the pandemic, and future elections may not have such widespread opportunities for early voting. On Election Day, the Senate voted, once again, to frame a response to the President’s denial of the resolution and to encourage reconsidering this resolution in the future. This final vote was 24-0 in favor of reconsideration.
Modrow and the SGA did like the 1.6+ million voters in Harris County did: they voted for future change. Two-thirds of UHD’s working body agree that Election Day should be recognized as a non-instructional day so UHD student body can initiate, participate ad celebrate active civic engagement. Election Day has come and gone, but it will come again. Perhaps by 2024, there will be a unity of red, white, and blue, and those future Gators will become civic leaders in the community.