Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Q&A with SGA President Jeff Yeager

I conducted an interview with Jeff Yeager on Monday, Nov. 16, for a feature that appeared in the Nov. 18, issue of The Concordian. I focused the story on Jeff's efforts to legitimize the SGA. Click here to read the story.

We talked about a lot more than just that. I wanted to get his thoughts on a few different matters, so I asked him about several different things. This Q&A is similar to something that I did with Curtis Kearns, the SGA's Board of Governors representative. Click here to see that.

While I interviewed Jeff, there were a couple other people present in the room, which I don't mind. I believe Grace Hurney was present for the entire interview. Josh Lawson - who Jeff points out at one point during the interview - was there for the beginning, but left halfway through. Ashley Green showed up at the halfway point of the interview. There was also some loud girl who showed up and distracted me a little bit. I didn't look over to see who it was. She left after a couple minutes. She was either talking about last weekend, or the upcoming weekend.

At one point, the phone rings in the SGA Office and Jeff answers it. I point out where that is in the interview.

Q&A is below.

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Interview with Jeff Yeager, SGA President - 11/16/09

Chris Slater: Let’s get some basic information out of the way. This is your fourth year, right?

Jeff Yeager: Yeah.

CS: What’s your major?

JY: History, philosophy, English. I’m all three.

CS: What’s your hometown?

JY: Oceana, West Virginia.

CS: How old are you?

JY: 22

CS: Social Security number?

JY: [laughs]

CS: What SGA positions have you held in the past?

JY: Okay, I’ve been organizational representative to the Honors program. Then, after that I moved to Senator. Then, Attorney General. Finally, President.

CS: You’ve been active in the SGA all your semesters here?

JY: No, actually, I started my sophomore year. Just three years. He’s been in it a lot longer than me [points to Josh Lawson]

[Josh Lawson says - “I’m sorry. I did not think it would be that bad when I got you involved in it.”]

Thanks Josh.

CS: What attracted you to the SGA?

JY: Well, I’ve always been interested in government. And, after being here for a year, I saw that Concord had considerable problems and considerable strengths too. That’s what drew me to it. Of course, when I first began, I kind of sat back and watched, saw how the process worked. Finally, I started to get more active the second semester in SGA. I became a Senator when the tuition rally and all that went on. That’s when I started to become heavily involved. I’ve always been drawn more - well, earlier, I was drawn more to the internal matters of the SGA: the constitution, bylaws. I’m still interested in that heavily. Early, throughout my SGA career, even up through the Attorney General, that’s mainly what I’ve done - reform.

CS: People first sort of took notice of you when you ran for - and were elected to - Attorney General. What led you to do that?

JY: Well, throughout that year, Ashley Gillespie did a really good job. She always seemed to be that objective voice. Considering I’m entering into a career in law, I figured the Attorney General would be a very good step. That job has a lot of stability. It’s the legal voice of the government. It’s essential, not only for the internal courts enforcing the Student Life Policy, which that’s the unpopular part of it; but, also, being that voice against unethical matters that go on. I was very satisfied with that job. A very nice job to have. I could say a whole lot about that job, as you know [laughs].


CS: There was some controversy in that race, as Rob Elsaid - who many considered to be a frontrunner - was pulled out of the race on a technicality. What were your thoughts shortly after your election when people questioned your victory?

JY: Well, a lot of people doubted me at first. A lot of people didn’t know me. A lot of people saw me as a “bumbling buffoon,” in a way. I have the “country accent” and all that. But, all I can do to that was prove them wrong. Of course, you know the first semester of my Attorney General race, I had to lead the impeachment process against Wes Prince. All I could do was simply do a good job and prove the doubters wrong. What happened to Rob wasn’t right. But, it wasn’t my fault either. So, I had to simply go on and do the job that I had won and was assigned to.

CS: You were the Attorney General during the Wes Prince administration. How did it feel to - as part of your job duties - investigate your own President for impeachment, twice?

JY: You know, it was incredibly hard and difficult. Many people in the administration pressured me to not proceed. I proceeded as I saw fit with my interpretation of the constitution and bylaws; the interpretation of the Investigation Committee, that I led. I feel that the ruling would have been different if we had had more rigid ethical standards. The court, then, had a very strict interpretation and approach to our bylaws. But, it was very hard. Probably one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to do. But, I think, it in a way helped get a lot of maturity on my part. That even helps me with the Presidency to make difficult decisions.

CS: For all the negatives that have been mentioned about Wes, could you give some highpoints of the SGA last year, things that he or others did:

JY: Well, we took care of a whole lot of reform last year. We had a lot of judicial reform to make our system much better. We started our Ethical Reform. Wes, himself, I think, had great intentions. But, it just didn’t play out a lot of the time. Our internal reform, I think, was the key point. Because of Wes, we saw the need to have this kind of reform. That still continues.

CS: At what point last year did you decide to run for President? And why?

JY: I actually decided to run for President, probably the day before the elections started. I had said that I had no intentions of running. I wanted to stick to the Attorney General, I guess I felt comfortable with it. But, a lot of people wanted me to run. They thought I could run an effective and efficient administration. I guess I let them talk to me and I decided to run. I think I ran, too, because I thought about it and I didn’t think that the Attorney General allowed me to “clean up” the SGA as much as I wanted to. I think being the President, you’re the face of the organization. And, when you’re that, it allows you to clean it up. So, it was a very “on the whim” decision.

CS: It was initially a three-way race between you, Ashley Hicks, and Bill Lewis. What were your initial thoughts when Bill dropped out of the race?

JY: Well, he dropped out of the race to support me. So, that was definitely great. I appreciate it. It made it a lot harder for students to decide. I think when you have it down to two people, instead of three, it makes for interesting debates.

CS: We had Ashley Hicks versus Jeff Yeager for SGA President. 1) Did you expect to win and 2) Why did you win?

JY: I did not expect to win at all. When we first started campaigning, I was bogged down with classes and many things. It seemed like, when we first started, she had this incredible campaign on Facebook, with all these members. It seemed like she started to get a whole lot of organizations behind her - you know, the BSU [Black Student Union] for instance. You know, I got really discouraged. I thought about dropping out of the race. But, I decided to stick with it and give people the principles that I was trying to fight for. I asked, you know, “Who do you trust?” That was my motto last year. And, I think a lot of it was people bought into that. I’m glad they did. I think a lot, too, was - I’m not saying that people were right in thinking this - but I think a lot of people saw Ashley as being a part of the same “cult” sentiment; the “country club” that had run SGA the past two or three years. I think they were looking for a fresh face. I think I was seen as kind of an “outsider,” in part because I was constantly challenging that group.

CS: Your first controversy as President occurred when Ashley accused you of not giving her an interview for the Secretary position. How did you handle that, in your very first meeting?

JY: Well, the very first meeting definitely was difficult. I just defended my hiring practice. We set up an interview time, she couldn’t make it. I didn’t find out until after I had made my decision [that she had been in the hospital]. And, you know, it was definitely difficult. I wish we could have interviewed her. But, I couldn’t rescind the decision I had already made. We saw last year when you do rescind a decision you’ve already made in the case when Wes appointed Brad Garner and then changed his mind.

CS: Your SGA Executive Branch opted not to have an “executive retreat” over the summer. Why not, and what did you do instead?

JY: We decided not to have a retreat because of a debacle we had a couple years ago. I think that if you run for this position and are fully capable of doing the job, you know, I had no training as Attorney General. I didn’t go on the trip. But, I still think I did an okay job. Instead, we came back a week early to prepare agendas and what we were doing with committees; organize our government before we even started. That’s probably due in part to the long meetings we had at the beginning of the year because we took care of a lot of action items early; we planned for them early. So, that’s why we didn’t have a retreat. There’s no training involved with those; it was a way to party, pretty much. That’s not what we’re here for.

CS: After the summer and nearly one semester as President, what are some things you’ve accomplished and some things you tried to do but didn’t succeed at?

JY: Well, we’ve accomplished getting the library open to 12, even if it’s not the full library. I’m hoping we can eventually get to that stage. We’ve got our dining hours extended to 7. Still working on the Religious Studies proposal, to get religious classes taught at University Point. I think, in large part, we’ve cleaned up the government. The faculty, staff, the President, I think respect us more. We’re not a farce. I haven’t had any definitive failures yet, I don’t think. A lot of these things take a lot of time. I’ve been really discouraged with the Religious Studies project because of opposition of faculty. I’m hoping to work beyond that. I’m also discouraged at the University’s willingness to put the cost of running this place on the students. As I mentioned in the Senate last week - well, you weren’t there at the Senate last week - I mentioned that they’re talking about capping our hours and charging us another certain sum for going over that cap. Problems like this is why students are hurting. It’s continually a struggle in this position. Hopefully we’re doing something right.

CS: Can you tell me about the commuter lounge and your involvement in it?

JY: The Commuter Committee came up to me and suggested we get a commuter lounge. I said that that was a wonderful idea and why didn’t I think of that before. We’re in the process of developing that now. One thing that has been brought up in my meetings has been that we convert the TV area upstairs next to the caf and build walls around it and make it into a lounge. We’ve also mentioned the idea of getting a lounge for each building; have one in the administration building, science building, fine arts, and so on. That way, we’d give people a place to go, a place to rest while they’re waiting on their next classes. It’s still in development and hopefully we’ll get something done. Those are the two main options. We are going to try to get, very soon, microwaves in the current vending areas we do have. That way people can heat up their food if they want to pack a lunch.

CS: What are your thoughts on Marshall Campbell’s exit from the SGA and Marjie Flanagan and Anna Hardy coming in?

JY: It’s definitely a step back that Marshall had to leave. He was a guiding voice for years. But, I think Marjie and Anna have stepped up to the plate. Anna’s new, but I think she’s taken a willingness, she’s willing to help students. Marjie’s just the same. I think both people definitely have our best interest in mind. But, we’re definitely missing the legal aspects of Marshall and his advice he would give. But, we certainly haven’t lost the quality.

CS: How do you respond to criticism that some people might have about committees not getting much done?

JY: Well, it’s my responsibility to make sure the committees are functioning, as well as the Vice President’s. I’m the one that is delegating tasks for them to do. It’s very discouraging that people don’t show up to committees a lot of the time. When I ask for committee reports every week, people say “no report,” or things of that nature. You know, it is discouraging. I think it’s up to the Vice President to decide what to do with chairmen like that. It seems like most of our committees are taking a very proactive approach. Our technology committee, I think, is doing a good job. Cassidy Hall. I think that the Dining committee, under Katlyn [Amos], is doing a good job as well. Many committees are stepping up to the plate; whereas others, I’m not going to name names, are not. So, we’ve definitely got to grab them by the nose, give them a kick in the pants and start making them work. It’s always been a problem we have; I think it’s been less this year. I remember last year you could go through a whole list of committees and hear “no report.” Committees are the life of this organization, it’s how we function. It’s the legislators attempt to help students. I think the Executives can only do so much. So, I’d like to see a very proactive legislator. I’ve always said that the key to an effective SGA is an Executive Branch that works hard, a Legislative Branch that works hard, and a Judicial Branch that does not work hard. [laughs]

CS: Got a couple more criticisms here. The Budgetary [committee] met very late, in addition to some other issues involving Matt Belcher. Do you think he’s done a good job so far?

JY: Yeah, I think he’s done a good job. It’s been hard for him to adjust. He had never held and executive position before, except for Vice President, temporarily. But, I think he’s doing a good job. This Budget Season, even though it ran late, it was very effective; there were not many criticisms of it. He’s spending money to help students; he’s running a very tight internal budget, which is what we want. I think I coined it “Yeager-nomics” earlier in the year. We’re trying to cut back internally, so we can give more back to the students. One of the criticisms we did meet with that was officer pay cuts. I think it’s necessary to save a little bit in that regard and I didn’t have a problem taking a cut from $450 to $400. It’s a realistic situation we’re in, with these tough economic times. I think he’s definitely doing a good job spending less so we can give more back.

CS: What were your thoughts on the sorority walkout over the flyer issue, during Homecoming?

JY: Huhhh… I cast the tie-breaking vote

[phone rings, Jeff talks for a couple minutes]

JY: The question was over the walkout?

CS: Yes. Your thoughts.

JY: I cast the tie-breaking vote to save resources. I think the flyers were a nightmare. People walked out because they believed what was best for their individual organizations, I don’t think they were looking out for the best interest of the student body. But, they’re organizational representatives. If people would have had a better understanding of Robert’s Rules, they would have understood what had already passed had passed and losing quorum would not have helped. But, it was just one of those instances where I kind of rolled my eyes and went on. I was glad it came from the legislative this time, instead of the executive, let’s put it that way.

CS: That looks like everything I have. Is there anything you’d like mentioned that I didn’t bring up?

JY: The main focus I’ve tried to bring this year is cleaning up the mess that has gone on the last few years. It’s what I ran my campaign on, is cleaning up. When you’re rebuilding an organization like this, it’s like rebuilding a losing sports team or something. It takes time. You can’t get all the progress you want in one year. What we’re continually striving for is to make this organization more respectable. When it’s more respectable, it’s a better force, a better voice for the students. That’s what we’re here for. Just let the readers know, I suppose, that that’s what I’m still trying to do - rebuild the broken ties.


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There's that. Any questions or comments, feel free to leave them.

Check out Jeff Yeager's blog at http://presidentyeager.blogspot.com/

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