Sad state of student government

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Two weeks ago, four students voiced an opinion in The Tartan on a then-student government candidate, and while the responses it received were varied, one thread throughout them was that Carnegie Mellon’s student government is a do-nothing, no-power joke. It is worthless and the candidates should not be vetted for their past performance.

One commenter could not believe students would write such a letter about a candidate “over something so insignificant as student government.”

Regardless of your opinion of that letter or The Tartan’s continued publication of individuals’ opinions (such as my own, here), as an over-involved member of the student body, once leader of this publication, and once President of the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), I want to explore the idea that our student government is a joke.

The elections board operated for weeks with a chair who, due to his role as student government’s Applications Engineer, was constitutionally ineligible to be the elections board chair. The board had technical issues at the launch of the election: The election opened early, some groups of students were unable to vote online for unknown reasons, and the election was listed as closed hours before it actually ended, described privately as “purely an aesthetic bug.” If a sign was hung at the door to a polling place stating that the election was closed, but the door was unlocked and people could still enter and vote, it would be declared voter fraud, not a bug.

During the impeachment hearing, the standing Vice President for Organizations declared the constitution a guideline and stated that he, the current Vice President for Finance, and the current president routinely do not follow the rules written in the constitution. This passed without shocking any representatives, and although the president admitted he had not wholly fulfilled his constitutional duties, he was not impeached.

The standing GSA president lied to his representatives and the Undergraduate Student Senate about having quorum at the impeachment hearing. He was emailed with the required number of representatives, which were not present at the meeting. When this was raised, he again affirmed he had quorum. Student government’s advisers were informed that GSA did not have quorum and did nothing. The vote was conducted (illegitimately) before I finally raised this issue loudly enough that it was recognized and then confirmed by student government’s constitutional adviser. GSA’s president likely lied not so that Jake Flittner would not be impeached — he knew the impeachment would fail; he lied so that it would appear that GSA representatives were showing up to important meetings.

Finally, a whopping 5.7 percent of the entire student body came out to vote in support of the winning student body president and vice president-elect. The student body elected to office the fifth Student Senate executive committee member in a row. For the role of Vice President of Finance, the student body elected the Student Senator who launched the failed impeachment campaign and who ran on a platform of raising the activities fee by 20 percent, which shamefully ignores whole swaths of the student population (graduate students and students in Qatar). There are nearly 900 people who voted but didn’t check the box for the only candidate running for that position.

This is the state of student government. The constitutional rules are seen as merely guidance. The leaders have been under threat of impeachment or actually have been impeached. The elections were rife with technical glitches, and yet they are in much better shape than recent years.

Most importantly, students seem to not care about any of this. One graduate student on Facebook wrote, “Isn’t this whole thing just for undergrads in humanities to feel important for a few years?” And maybe it is. Maybe student government has been so dysfunctional for the past three or so years that an entire generation of Carnegie Mellon students see it as a token role, as a popularity contest that allows a few students to further stuff their résumés and sit in meetings voicing opinions without ever accomplishing anything.

While I don’t actually believe this, it seems the percentage of this campus that does is still startlingly high. It remains on the shoulders of our newly elected leaders to vehemently fight this attitude and apathy.

Will, Meela, Jon, and Alyssa: Your most important role for the next year is not to raise the activities fee or recognize new student groups more quickly, and it is not to lobby in Harrisburg or restructure the Board of Directors. It is to make an actual and lasting impact on every single student at Carnegie Mellon, by communicating quickly, and broadly every success and failure that you have as our leaders.