I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Thomas Sabram and Nicolette Louissaint on their recent election. Student government will be in the hands of very capable students next year. But will having capable student government leaders result in a capable student government?
I?m not optimistic. Students involved with student government are afraid of taking any controversial stand. The situation has degraded to the point that most Student Senators are afraid of the idea of student government tackling issues that aren?t either handed to it by the administration or perceived as being overwhelmingly popular. We will continue to see student government stay involved with policies regarding putting up posters on campus, the use of plus-minus grading, and exams; but we won?t have a student government involved with issues such as financial aid, race relations, or student rights. While The Tartan has no problems addressing any of these issues, student government remains conspicuously silent.
The degeneration of student government into a social club for students who seek to practice Robert?s Rules of Order reached its peak this year, when at the Student Body Presidential Debate all three tickets hid their real views on issues behind pleasantries and carefully worded statements. Candidates repeatedly deflected questions on the issue of diversity by instead choosing to address the problem of ?diversity of thought,? a nice-sounding way to request affirmative action policies extend to promote conservative thought.
Can anyone who attended that debate honestly tell me one controversial, or even daring, promise that was made? Politicians are known for raising the hopes of people and then disappointing them after they take office; here at Carnegie Mellon, it seems our politicians can get away with being a disappointment even before they are elected.
Many in student government believe, mistakenly, that student government would improve if only there were some way to better communication between students and Senators. It is hard to accept that Student Senators are ignorant of issues of importance on this campus.
Only rarely, such as the case this year with Port Authority buses, will student government actually take and promote a strong stance on an issue of importance to students. For far too many issues, representing the interests of students is a responsibility left to groups of students that want something to be done.
In 2002, I worked with the Progressive Student Alliance on an ?Open The Books? campaign, aimed at having the University open access to University budgets wherever possible. We built a coalition with a wide range of groups, including the College Republicans, and were able to collect hundreds of signatures from students, including members of Student Senate. While we met with Vice President of Enrollment Bill Elliott, Student Body President Brian Namey not only failed to address the issue, but also vetoed student government?s own Freedom of Information Act.
In 2003 and 2004, People for Workers? Rights highlighted the unfair treatment of contracted workers, specifically janitors, on the Carnegie Mellon campus and collected over 1000 signatures from students. The issue was raised at a Senate meeting, and then-Student Body President Dan Gilman expressed concern and interest in the campaign. People for Workers? Rights continued to work on the issue, while student government has never, to this day, done anything at all to support fair treatment of workers on our campus.
In either of these campaigns, student government involvement might have enabled students to win more concessions, or at least ensured that the issue remained on the collective agenda of students. One key difference between student government and state and federal government is that at Carnegie Mellon, decision makers are accessible to students. Students can, and often do, directly petition the administration for change. There is often no need to go through student government, because directly contacting the administration often proves more effective.
Officials in student government need to get over the idea that students should bring their problems to student government. If a student cares enough to improve his or her situation, that student will often contact the administration directly. The question is not what we can do for student government; it is what student government can do for us. Student government needs to find a way to start proactively and preemptively bringing issues to the administration, or else accept their position of irrelevance.