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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Student Government - What a Mess

ASR meeting on November 19, considering a student proposal.
A veto happy president, complex parliamentary procedures, resolutions to no one, confusion about the role of representation, and more money than they know what to do with. This version of the Association of Student Representatives is a mess. Hallelujah!!

I couldn't be more thrilled with the job ASR is doing this year, and particularly with the leadership of President Joe Moore and Vice President Sean Solis. Over the last several years the group has been engaged in re-writing its constitution and growing the student activity fee. In addition, they took an important stand on the diploma issue and led the way on changes in the campus dining program. This year the big issue is bollards. So it is refreshing that the meetings have been dynamic, engaging, and even respectfully controversial.

As their adviser, I care far more about the process than the outcomes. This is where the learning occurs and I wish them well on the success of  their initiatives. Here are some of the reasons they have made me proud:

- President Moore has unapologetically invoked his veto power on three occasions. This doesn't seem to irk the senators as much as one would think. On November 19, for example, the Senate over-rode his veto. How cool is that? What's more, they are handling this new wrinkle with civility and respect. President Moore has shown his desire to preserve some of the principles that have been important to ASRs of years past. One veto involved the lack of funding for a Black Student Union program and another in favor of t-shirt money for MLK march shirts to come from a non-sweatshop source. If you didn't know better he would almost seem... liberal.

- Sure, President Moore has called out senators for not dressing appropriately, but again, the Senate seems to have a thick skin. They even went along with a hyper-drive parliamentary procedure experiment in which the president was doling out 20-second speaking allotments. Having sat through many loooong and drawn out and repetitive discussions over many Monday nights when good football games were being broadcast, I really appreciate this.

- I love when ASR passes resolutions, though they seem reluctant to do so because the senators and other students sometimes wonder "what's the point?" Well, as a high-level bureaucrat I can say unequivocally the resolutions matter. The administration, believe it or not, craves student input and opinions. That doesn't always mean that the students will get their way. Dr. Coleen Grissom, in her role as Dean of Students, used to say ASR had no power, but lots of influence. That remains true today.But more times than not, the students will get their way because resolutions are well-considered, thoughtful, and reasonable.

- When issues are brought to a vote, senators have often respectfully abstained if the issues were related to organizations in which they participate. Conventional wisdom seems to be that it is proper for senators to debate on these topics, but withhold their votes, which could represent conflicts of interest. I'm not so sure. This is the money question, after all, in representative organizations. Are representatives there to represent? Are they there because voters trust them to vote on their opinion, not simply reflect majority opinions of their constituents? Or are they there to advance their special interests. It  may be situational. An exciting aspect of the larger activity fee is that it may lead to more dynamic elections for those who want to make sure the needs of their interests and groups are advanced, or at least heard. So why not vote on what matters to those elected? Or is that unethical? These are great questions for students to ponder and consider.

- Finally, ASR has money for once. And they are learning not to nit-pick proposals to death. They have proven to be good stewards of the student activity fee, but the coffers are still full. Students can and should tell the program board and others how to spend that money for a rich and vibrant campus life. This is what the students sought with the fee increase.

I think this ASR is mixing it up more than in recent history, and that more voices are being heard. It is complicated and messy and perfect. Just as it should be.


David Tuttle said...

Dear Anonymous - Thanks for reading and for your comments. You are right, I won't publish your comment, though I see it less as censorship and more as being a good steward of what gets viewed here. Happy to talk with you off-line/in person any time though!

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