Bridging the disconnect: how Undergraduate Student Government’s sole executive ticket is reimagining shared governance, student involvement, and equity at the UI

USG President and Vice Presidential Candidates Regan Smock and José Muñiz Jr. reflect on their leadership setbacks, successes, and future sights preceding election week.


Kate Heston

University of Iowa students José Muñiz Jr. and Regan Smock pose for a portrait outside of the Old Capital building on Sunday afternoon. Muñiz and Smock are running for office in the upcoming University Student Government election.

Grace Hamilton, News Reporter

Undergraduate Student Government election week kicked off on Monday with unchallenged tickets across the ballot. Still, presidential and vice presidential candidates Regan Smock and José Muñiz Jr. look toward their likely uncontested victory as the first step in a dynamic process of achieving their campaign goals.

Voting for the executive ticket, senator candidates, and constituency senators can be accessed by undergraduate students via their student profiles on MyUI beginning today at 9 a.m. Links on the student information page lead voters to a voting platform called Engage. The voting period ends Thursday at 5 p.m., according to USG Elections Commissioner Andy Swiston.

Smock, who has served two years as USG’s Director of Academic Affairs, said her first experience with the student organization motivated her to make USG a more inclusive place.

“My first year in student government, I felt a sense of a culture of toxicity and exclusion, and so I wanted to be a leader with compassionate values,” Smock said. “…[I want to be] making sure that students who are in student government are feeling supported and can be the leaders that they need and get the support they need…so they can have a great experience and also do really great advocacy with that support.”

While Smock said she is honored to have a voice at meetings with university administration, she said she wants to see more students — USG and non-USG alike — have the opportunity to share their experiences with decision-making bodies at the university.

“I’m in a lot of rooms where I’m the only student, and that is a privilege, but I think that we need to make sure that even though students might be invited to those rooms, that the conversation and the opinions of students are valued,” Smock said. “You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to know what’s best for the student experience. Even though we are invited sometimes, it’s important to make sure that we are a prominent voice and a voice that is listened to.”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the function of shared governance among the branches of student government and university administration has been a subject of focus for years, especially since Bruce Harreld’s selection as UI president in 2015.

Although concerned with shared governance, Muñiz Jr. said he also plans to foster a student government and university that values diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Muñiz Jr. has spent his undergraduate years working at the Association of Latinos Moving Ahead and various university cultural centers to provide support and community to underrepresented students.

“One of the biggest things that both Regan and I are really working toward is being able to have that support — that retention piece — for underrepresented students,” Muñiz Jr. said. “Whether that’s with representation that we’re advocating for in general or having faculty and staff of color where students can go and see that they’re in that role…But also having therapists, counseling services, and [more] therapists of color.”

Without prior experience serving in student government, Muñiz Jr. said he is confident he can effectively work with USG and administrative powers to bring his hopes for the university to fruition.

“I can still bring up those ideas, and still bring things that are new to the table that maybe haven’t been brought up before, haven’t been done before, or haven’t even been tried before,” Muñiz Jr. said.

Contrasting that new perspective, Smock has spent three years in USG representing student interests. She was key in passing accommodations for international students working in different time zones, but not all of her advocacy efforts have come to fruition exactly like she imagined.

After spending nine months advocating for a pass-fail grading option for students to utilize on their 2020-2021 transcripts, the university administration opted instead for standard grading.

“[Pushing for pass-fail] was the hardest I’ve ever worked on something, and obviously it didn’t work, but I learned a lot in that advocacy,” Smock said. “I’d say I started the conversation in the Association of Big Ten Students. All the academic affairs directors in the Big Ten got together [over Zoom], and we made a really comprehensive document about equity issues and the experiences of students, and everyone passed that along to their faculty assemblies.”

Although the UI did not approve a pass/fail option, eight of the 14 Big Ten schools implemented a pass/fail grading system in the fall 2020 semester, in part because of Smock’s collaboration with the Association of Big Ten Students.

Smock’s advocacy throughout the pandemic has even directed her focus overseas, she said.

To accommodate the expensive shipping costs and time-zone complications faced by UI’s international students spread across the world, Smock said USG used their student emergency fund to ship textbooks to international students and worked with ITS to automatically notify professors of students living in a time zone conflicting with class.

“That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have conversations with the International Student Advisory Board,” Smock said. “So that was something I really tried to put on the platform to make sure that we’re listening to those groups too.”

Although this week’s voting period will likely lead USG’s sole executive ticket to victory, Muñiz Jr. said he wants his work in USG to have a reach beyond a single year in office.

“I plan to do what I said with going into those communities and asking what they need, but also not just when I’m there. [I’m wanting to] set a trend, making it happen after I leave because I only have a year left,” Muñiz Jr. said. “Everything I do now is pretty much what I want to see happen, but also I might have to think about the future — who can take my place and continue these, sustain, and be institutionalizing these things.”