With Thursday’s inauguration of new Missouri Students Association President Nick Droege and Vice President Zach Beattie, we would like to offer our annual President’s Report Card for outgoing president Xavier J. Billingsley. We have separated our review of his term into three categories (and, to better expand on the nature of his presidency, added an extra, unweighted category), given him a letter grade based on our opinion of his effectiveness in each, then averaged the three categories to produce a final letter grade for his term.
One of Billingsley and and outgoing Vice President Helena Kooi’s campaign promises was that they would “elevate unity.” They promised to do so through events and campaigns celebrating diversity and Mizzou spirit. A central part of this was the proposed One Mizzou Week, which would serve as a yearly showcase of the One Mizzou respect campaign.
On these promises, Billingsley followed through. While it was not a complete success, his One Mizzou Week was a good start to what should become an annual tradition, and it will serve as a learning experience for future years. The big draws of the week, Maya Angelou and the band fun., were exciting and brought plenty of buzz, but many of the more “serious” events, which were intended to focus more on our campus’s diversity, were not very well-attended. After all, the point of the week was to celebrate unity and diversity, not to provide a second Homecoming week. We feel there should have been a greater effort to link the entire week in order to better serve its true purpose.
Overall, though, Billingsley’s other diversity efforts didn’t do much to really electrify the campus or get students talking and listening. It’s tough to differentiate MSA’s events and campaign from that of the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, which suggests perhaps the two should have collaborated more.
Where Billingsley and his administration really shined this year was in programming. Some of it was new and some was old, but all of it helped students and worked to create a better campus.
Concerts put on by MSA throughout the year, such as Imagine Dragons, and speakers, such as Seth Meyers and Matt Roloff, were very successful at bringing the campus together. Billingsley argued during the fall that more money should be allocated to the programming fund, but with the wide array of entertainers and lecturers he was able to bring to campus this year, it seems the current funding level works just fine.
MSA worked with Tiger Line to restructure student bus lines this year. Billingsley was passionate about ensuring that students have access to all the services they need in Columbia, and it showed. We now have better transportation access to downtown thanks to his efforts.
Although it wasn’t his idea, Billingsley helped make the BikeShare program a reality. It’s a smart and sustainable initiative with a high level of use, so we’re a little surprised that he didn’t fight harder to secure more funding at the end of the year to help ensure it became a permanent transportation option for students as an auxiliary.
Another bright spot of the Billingsley administration was the creation of Tiger Pantry. It filled a unique, demonstrated need — that of hungry MU students, staff and faculty — and did so with efficiency. It even brought some positive national attention to MU, which was sorely needed.
And perhaps the crown jewel of Billingsley’s year as MSA president was the More For Less campaign. In response to proposed higher education cuts in the budget, he and his cabinet started the campaign, which organized the writing of thousands of letters to state legislators as well as a march on the Missouri Capitol. Whenever you have almost 200 students leaving class to travel to Jefferson City and stand up for their university, you have something big on your hands. More For Less was a massive success, as state Sen. Kurt Schaefer affirmed when, after the education cuts were scuttled, he credited the campaign for inspiring him and other lawmakers to act.
But beyond his programs and initiatives, Billingsley had the opportunity and the obligation to make MU better through his leadership and his example. In this aspect, we feel he let students down.
In reviewing what he personally did for students throughout the year, one theme remains almost constant: Billingsley should have fought harder to make an impact. His administration did not have much of an impact outside of its programming. He did make a good faith effort to change the plus/minus grading system, but that fell through. He did not spend much time advocating for students on other issues. It’s obvious to us that after a year under Billingsley, MSA is no more relevant to students and the culture of MU than it was when he took the helm.
Even in his own organization, Billingsley often did not seem to be on top of things. As opposed to 2011 president Eric Woods, who was an energetic presence at MSA Senate and cabinet meetings, Billingsley rarely appeared at meetings, never proposed any legislation directly to the Senate, and was occasionally even a distraction, sitting in the back of the chamber and cracking jokes about those speaking. It appeared as though he sometimes lacked knowledge on MSA Senate affairs and legislation, and he was rarely available to talk to reporters.
Furthermore, Billingsley was not always a model student, as one should expect from the highest elected representative of the student body. His Twitter account was, at times, inappropriate and immature — unbecoming of the @MSAPresident username and contrary to what the MU community wants and needs to see from such a platform. That's not the hallmark of an effective and responsible student leader and advocate.
Overall Grade: C
Billingsley's term was successful in that he was able to check off many of the items from his campaign and hired some of MU's brightest stars for his cabinet. It was not as successful when one turns to his leadership, advocacy and accessibility — in these aspects, Billingsley did not do much to make MSA more relevant and impactful. His cabinet members were the names constantly coming up in our stories. Therefore, we felt that it would serve best to give his cabinet a separate grade outside of his report card.
No other MSA president in recent memory has had a cabinet so involved and important as Billingsley’s. Each of them was knowledgeable, competent and in tune with both MSA and the student body as a whole. Their initiatives and their work helped to propel MU forward all year, and gave the organization several major points of pride.
Of course, Tiger Pantry is perhaps the best example of this. As Billingsley's Director of Student Services, Nick Droege singlehandedly and tirelessly worked to get the pantry running, and the massive plurality of students who elected him president for 2013 is testament to his work ethic and the reputation he built this past year. Based off his work there, we are tremendously optimistic about what he can accomplish in the coming months.
More For Less, as we said, was a massive success, and that is primarily due to the enormous effort of Legislative Advocacy Officer Steven Dickherber, Director of Student Communications Zach Toombs and recently-resigned Academic Affairs chairman Ben Levin. They managed to create a campaign with huge student involvement that had an enormous impact. Students can’t always change what happens in the Statehouse. These three students did.
A less glamorous success of this past year for MSA was its budget. Helena Kooi proved herself to be a fiercely intelligent, keen and aware vice president, and accomplished a historical rarity — a balanced, organized MSA budget. Despite the Senate messing up and failing to follow budget rules, Kooi kept her cool and managed to get everything in line. For that, she deserves our praise.
Morgan Adrian filled the position of Director of Student Activities in the middle of the term, and even though she got a late start, she was successful in bringing in big-name speakers and concerts to campus that thousands of students enjoyed.
Lastly, as former Secretary of Auxiliaries, Lauren Damico was a very well-respected and well-spoken member of the cabinet. She was key to its operation, providing knowledgable insight to the cabinet and to Senate whenever necessary and improving the efficiency of the MSA auxiliaries.
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