The University of Maryland SGA’s speaker of the legislature, Jonathan Allen, is running to be its president, and he’s focused on affordability — namely addressing student fees, as well as the costs of graduation and textbooks.
First, Allen said he hopes to address mandatory student fees, which are currently $959 per semester for full-time students.
“I think that we need to look at these fees,” Allen said. “We need to tell students, ‘This is where your money is going to,’ and making sure that they are aware about that, and their priorities and values are represented in these fees.”
The junior government and politics major is leading Envision Maryland’s ticket, which includes 36 other students.
Junior marketing major Huw Ball, the communications director for Envision Maryland, said Allen’s prior experience provides him with valuable insight into how the SGA works.
“If you think about the way [the SGA is] set up, he’s moving from the head of the one branch to the head of another,” Ball said. “What you’re dealing with is a lot of similar issues.”
As a freshman he served on the Student Affairs committee, and as a sophomore, as a representative for the SGA’s undergraduate studies department.
Allen has also served on the University Senate, the Undergraduate Studies Dean’s Student Advisory Council, the Campus Transportation Advisory Committee and the board of directors of Hillel. Allen has also served as the president of Terps for Israel.
Ball said this involvement will help Allen if he is elected.
“He has a people-focused mindset, and everywhere he goes he’s looking to fix things … and I think people see that,” he said.
Another one of Allen’s concerns is graduation costs. A cap and gown currently cost about $150 for undergraduates. Allen said he hopes to establish a rental program to address this.
He also hopes to introduce more open-source textbooks by working with professors to request state grants, as well as noting on Testudo whether a class uses open-source books.
One accomplishment Allen is proud of is the TRAIN program, which provides transportation stipends to students within programs that require an internship to graduate.
“To have to do an internship and have to pay for transportation and pay for lunch, that’s concerning,” Allen said. “You don’t want to have more barriers for students to jump through when it comes to graduating.”
Allen found the SGA’s funding process confusing and convoluted, he said. The current system requires student groups to rewrite information already in their OrgSync pages on the funding form. Allen suggested a prepopulated form to avoid this.
During a debate, Allen’s opponent from Recognize UMD, Humza Yahya, said this is impossible, but Allen said he is open to changing website platforms to make budget submissions more accessible to student groups.
The financial aspects of Allen’s platform, such as suggestions of increasing initiatives to help student groups access funding, concern Yahya.
“The only thing that concerns me [about Allen’s platform] is [Envision UMD’s] positions on the way that finance is currently handled,” Yahya said. “[I’m concerned by] the current rhetoric that they are using alleging that the Finance Committee is somehow untransparent, unfair or unequitable to student groups.”
Allen also wants to work to address the lack of available food options for students who live off the campus. He’s working on a partnership between the Department of Transportation Services and Lyft to help students affordably get to grocery stores.
Allen also has concerns about Purple Line construction and how it will affect students with disabilities.
“One concern of mine is that it will make it harder for students with disabilities, and I plan to reach out to appropriate administrators during the construction process,” he said.