Student Government has been a part of UNC’s history for over a century.
In 1904, University President Francis Venable sparked a discussion regarding the implementation of an honor system, and since then, student government at the University has expanded to resemble the structure of the U.S. Government.
“We have a fully self-governed student judiciary in the honor court and honor system,” Matthew Tweden, chairperson of the Joint Governance Council, said. “We have a full legislative branch, a full executive branch — as well as massively wide oversight of student fee appropriations and an extremely broad ability to engage with specialized components of the administration.”
Up until the 2017-18 school year, student government was considered one entity that tackled issues related to both undergraduate and graduate students.
Now, student government at UNC is split into two organizations — the Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate and Professional Student Government — with each having their own executive, legislative and judicial branches. Tweden said the split can be attributed to brewing tensions over the fact that graduate students consistently felt like a minority in student congress.
The groups collaborate through the Joint Governance Council, which works to bridge the two populations and foster communication between governments, Tweden said.
“We have a very prescriptive legislative responsibility in which we hear bills that come out," he said. "We consider how they affect the joint code and the constitution, but more broadly, it is a conversational piece."
The Joint Governance Council is composed of 13 people in total but only has six voting members. The voting members consist of three senators from both the USG and GPSG.
“I think we can combine the experiences of cases of graduate student government with the passion of undergraduate student government into effectively improving things for all students,” Joshua Bakita, president pro tempore of the GPSG Senate, said.
The different branches of government perform similar tasks and hold many of the same responsibilities, regardless of the constituency they serve.
The senates’ primary role is to draw attention to issues that affect students at UNC and get these matters on the desks of University administrators, which then provides leverage for the executive branch to further drive these conversations, Tweden said.
One aspect of the executive branch that is unique to UNC is the student body president’s position as an ex officio voting member on the Board of Trustees. The student body president must also serve concurrently as either the USG or GPSG president under dual service.
The judicial branch of UNC’s student government consists of both an honor system and a Supreme Court. The honor system is the more active of the two and handles instances of student misconduct that violate the University’s Honor Code. The Supreme Court handles disputes regarding student law, but has not been very active in recent history, Tweden said.
“(The Supreme Court) is probably the biggest gray area in Student Government today, simply because it hasn't been engaged with,” he said. “We just have not had a meaningfully utilized court in a very long time, and as a result, it’s a little ambiguous what exactly the full bandwidth of capabilities of that court is.”
Student Government is currently focusing on advocating for issues including, but not limited to, campus accessibility and safety as well as updating UNC’s digital infrastructure.
Aside from advocacy and oversight, Student Government plays a crucial role in the distribution of funding to student-led organizations and individual students. This funding comes from the student activities fee, resulting in the USG having a substantially larger budget than the GPSG.
Bakita said the GPSG’s total income from last year was $161,000 while the USG’s was roughly $500,000. He said this difference causes the GPSG to focus more on advocacy and oversight while the USG has a larger responsibility to distribute funds.
Christian Phillips, speaker of the Undergraduate Senate, said one of the main responsibilities of the Senate is allocating the student activities fee.
“We've allocated roughly $850,000, so far this year, to different student organizations around campus, allowing them to fulfill their missions,” he said.
Alongside funding student organizations and allocating money to senators for use within their districts, Bakita said the GPSG also utilizes its funding to provide more individual-focused funding, such as travel awards and emergency grants.
Student governance at UNC does not end with three traditional branches. There are currently 18 independent agencies that operate adjacent to Student Government but remain subject to oversight from the Joint Governance Council. Examples of these agencies include the Carolina Athletic Association and the Residence Hall Association.
In all, UNC’s Student Government hopes to serve as a voice for the student body and advocate for change.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and I’m extremely happy to have been a part of it,” Phillips said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.