Sometimes, even the most heated political squabble can turn into a learning experience.
Such has been case within Oklahoma City University's Student Government Association. A dust-up that had been brewing for at least a semester culminated in recent weeks when the student government's president was impeached a week before her term ended.
The chief justice of OCU's student court ruled former Student Government Association President Emma Velez had served her full term. Velez is barred from holding elected office within the organization for one semester, but she may participate in other capacities.
Rick Hall, OCU's vice president for student affairs, said the incident represented political drama at its best — albeit on a small scale.
Hall, who serves as the organization's adviser, said the incident was the culmination of a longer series of altercations between the group's executive and legislative branches. The final disagreement was over the use of the president's discretionary fund, Hall said.
The president may use that fund to sponsor events or initiatives he or she thinks are important, he said, and parameters for the use of the fund aren't well defined.
Generally, Hall said, it falls to the Student Senate — the student government's legislative body — to distribute funding to campus organizations in much the same way money is doled out at the state and federal level.
But when Velez chose to use money from the discretionary fund to support an event sponsored by a student organization that received money from the Student Senate, a debate ensued over how the fund may be used. Although that debate ended with Velez being impeached, she doesn't face any charge or disciplinary action from the university itself.
Velez was unavailable for comment.
Spats like this one happen periodically in college and university student governments, Hall said. He's seen a few similar cases, he said, and the outcomes of disagreements generally depend on how far students are willing to carry the conflict.
Although they can be stressful for everyone involved, Hall said disagreements like this one are a part of the reason for student government to exist. Student government organizations give students firsthand experience at managing conflict, dealing with rules and regulations and handling real-world issues. Faculty advisers are on hand to make sure the proceedings stay inside the lines, he said, but they largely act as bystanders during the debate itself.
But that experience comes in a controlled environment, Hall said. The consequences of any actions the student government might take are far smaller than they would be in a state legislature or in Congress, he said.
Despite the scale, Hall said, student governments do have the power to make a meaningful impact on campus. In much the same way as other government bodies, student government organizations distribute funds, put forth initiatives — and occasionally engage in ugly political battles.
“Student government is real government,” he said. “It's real and it's consequential and it's purposeful.”