For the Students, By the Students
by: Michael Rorro
Student government should focus on issues relevant to improving student life on campus. To accomplish this, governing organizations should serve students in three primary capacities. First, student government should be a resource for students and their organizations on campus. Second, these governments should represent student voice, ensuring that it is not lost in University discussions. Finally, student government should cultivate leadership skills in its members and students at large.
Each student at the University pays a fixed amount of fees to the various student governments each semester. The money is, in fact, quite nominal in comparison with tuition, and remains less than $20 per academic year. Economically speaking, do students at the University of Michigan get $20 of utility from these mandated student fees? Though there are improvements to the system that can be made, I believe they do.
The governmental structure at the University of Michigan consists of legislative bodies in each of the major schools and colleges, councils in various communities at the University (Residential Halls, Greek Life), and a central student government called the Michigan Student Assembly. Each of these organizations has funding mechanisms which empower student organizations through financial grants. About 60 percent of the student fees helps student organizations provide program dispensations for campus groups. This funding allows student government to fulfill its primary role as a resource for students and their organizations.
Student government should use the remainder of these designated fees to provide resources for University students. Initiatives like Airbus, Advice Online and the “This Sucks” campaign directly impact student life and provide useful services for the campus population. Moreover, in the creation and operation of these services, students at the University have the ability to take leadership roles and grow as individuals.
Government should also represent the voice of the student body to University administration and higher legislative bodies on issues that affect the University community. In a university as large and decentralized as Michigan, this underrepresented voice is easily lost within the administration. It is student government’s job to continually push forrecognition so that students can be a part of creating the future of our University. This responsibility is a difficult task as University initiatives are generally implemented over 4 to 5 years; therefore, the high turnover rate inherently disenfranchises students.
Additionally, in order for student government to be taken seriously by the University, it must focus on issues for which it can make a difference. Student government does not produce measurable results for students by debating the Israel/Palestine conflict. In my opinion, it actually weakens the connection between the elected representatives and their constituents. In fact, student government is simply wasting its time passing resolutions calling for changes in international policy, as seen last year in the Michigan Student Assembly’s vote on United Nations involvement in the Middle East. The UN Security Council does not care what MSA thinks, I am sure of that.
Though it is best for it to keep its nose out of international issues, student government should not be afraid to lobby for student interests on the city, state or national level. State legislature budget proposals that involved the Michigan Promise Scholarship are a prime example of an issue on which the voice of student government should be heard.
In order to effectively build grassroots support, students must first trust that their peers in government are working for them. I believe that that trust is built by focusing on relevant issues and by tangibly improving student life on campus.
If I pay 20 bucks to student government, I expect to get my money’s worth. Therefore, I believe that that government should seek to improve the quality of student life at the University of Michigan by funding programs. Events like Earth Week, Gayz Craze, and Go Blue Beat OSU are all-inclusive events that enhance the campus community. When it provides such programming for the university community, student government also allows students to develop leadership skills through work on these projects.
Students deserve a government that will work for them and allow them to leave their mark on the University of Michigan. The governmental organizations must realize that they exist to be a resource for students on campus; student government should focus on improving student life at the University. By providing measurable results, student government will gain the trust of UM students and will be able to effectively organize student opinion on relevant issues locally and beyond.
Calling for Leadership
by: Kate Stenvig
The University of Michigan’s leading role in defending diversity and academic freedom has placed our campus in the national spotlight.It is the reason many of us came here.Historically, our student body, beginning with its elected student leaders, has played a leading role in promoting national debate and mobilizing students into action around key educational, social, and political questions of national and international importance.In 2003, we led many prestigious American institutions in mobilizing more than 50,000 students to successfully defend our university’s affirmative action policies in the United States Supreme Court.
Our campus and its society are now facing a set of crises that call for the same degree of campus leadership. Our central student government, the Michigan Student Assembly, should be leading the way.
For the fourth year in a row, Latino(a), and Native American student enrollment on our campus has continued to drop because of the statewide ban on affirmative action. From 2005 to 2009 the number of black students in the freshman class fell from 443 to 290 Latino students from 312 to 224, and Native American students from 57 to just 21. The UM Law School suffered a 31 percent drop in minority student enrollment. Wayne State University Medical School, which once proudly produced the largest number of black doctors of any public university in the nation, has had a devastating 64 percent drop in minority students.
The ban on affirmative action not only denies many of the best and brightest students access to Michigan’s top universities; the decline in the number of minority students on our campus also contributes to an increasingly unwelcoming and unsupportive campus climate for the minority and immigrant students who are at the University of Michigan, further contributing to declines in enrolment and retention.
The threat of re-segregation and an increasingly hostile campus climate are not the only issues facing our campus. Crises in our economy, the environment, and the US public education system, require now more than ever that our student government be a center for serious debate and mobilization that includes all parts of our campus and our society.
MSA needs a bold new leadership that is prepared to uphold the principles of diversity, democracy, student rights, intellectual freedom and debate.
The current MSA leadership is attempting to undermine these principles and turn progress backwards through a series of attacks on basic democracy, free speech, and students’ rights that are designed to limit debate, suppress minority interests and narrow the scope of MSA’s authority and power.The Assembly recently approved amendments to its Code that limit the free speech rights of students and community members to address the assembly. Under the new policy, anyone wishing to address the Assembly must present an unexpired M-Card. Those who do not have an M-Card must apply to the MSA Executive Board in advance for permission to speak. Only they get to decide which speakers are worthy and which issues are relevant to students. This policy is blatantly undemocratic.
Even worse, MSA is now holding an un-elected constitutional convention in order to push through further undemocratic amendments to the constitution.Under the guise of increasing “efficiency,” the only real aim of such undemocratic policies is to avoid meaningful debate and to repress student activism, which has historically been closely linked to the broader Ann Arbor community.
Our student body does not exist within an isolated bubble. We cannot allow the power and scope of our central student government to be narrowed and diminished by a few leaders who fear an open debate and discussion of the national and international issues that matter most to students. It is irresponsible and ridiculous for anyone who calls himself or herself a student leader to be arguing that the MSA should only deal with so-called “campus issues.”No meaningful improvements in the lives of students can occur if democracy is curtailed. At a moment when so much of the campus feels a need to organize to stop more tuition increases, to streamline the financial aid system, and to fight for an increase in the amount of federal stimulus package funding earmarked for higher education, it is unacceptable for members of our student government to attempt to shut down student democracy. Without democratic channels through which student voices can be heard, there is no way to make progress on any of these important issues.
Only an independent student movement can provide the leadership needed to stop the re-segregation of our campus and put us back on the road toward progress and equality.We do not have to wait until we have earned a degree or have a fancy title.We already have the power to win all our demands to make our campus accessible and affordable; we just need the leadership and organization to achieve it. The Michigan Student Assembly can and should lead the campus in defending the progressive gains of the last student and civil rights movements, and turning our university into a true center of progress and critical thinking. In order to do that, MSA must become more diverse and integrated, open, and democratic, and it must be bolder in its leadership.
edited by: Kevin Todd