Maybe it’s his experiences covering “real” government as the Daily’s longtime government beat reporter before becoming editor-in-chief, or maybe because we lived in the same house for a year, but for whatever reason, I think Daily editor Louie Meizlish really hits the nail on the head in his column today about the Michigan Student Assembly:
“Louie Meizlish: The do-little assembly
November 20, 2003
With the mid-term elections for the Michigan Student Assembly approaching completion, perhaps it’s time for a brief history of campus politics and our illustrious student government.
March 2000. Hideki Tsutsumi, a student whose communications skills are otherwise less than stellar, campaigns for an entire year wearing a sandwich board and is elected MSA president. He is unable to control the raucous assembly meetings and frequently turns the gavel over to his vice president.
March 2001. Matt Nolan, a smooth-talking conservative masquerading as a center leftist, leads the Blue Party to a short-lived dominance on MSA and is elected president. As the public face of the student body, he speaks in support of affirmative action and works with the University to post signs at bus stops complete with maps of the various bus routes.
March 2002. Sarah Boot leads an anti-Blue coalition known as the Students First Party, composed of campus leftist as well as right-wingers disgusted with Nolan’s wishy washiness on social issues. As MSA president, Boot helps establish the airBus shuttle to Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
March 2003. Students First continues its dominance of MSA, this year with Angela Galardi as the elected leader. Galardi undergoes media training provided by the University and gives semi-impressive soundbytes to national media on the Diag when the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the affirmative action cases. AirBus continues its service.
OK, maybe not.
Don’t get me wrong, MSA does do some things. One area in which it has performed admirably is the allocation of money to student groups, with virtually no controversy surrounding the $400,000 yearly appropriations to the groups.
Though often criticized or its long debates on “meaningless resolutions,” it’s hard to argue that a student assembly shouldn’t be voicing its sentiments on “non-student” issues, because, yes, even wars affect students.
But it could do more.
MSA’s problem, in fact, is it does small things and then touts them as huge achievements.
When he discovered that several seats were vacant on the Central Student Judiciary, there was the “student general counsel,” Jason Mironov, firing off a press release as if he’d struck oil in the Frieze Building. (Don’t worry, the vacancies have been filled and there’s more than enough “justices” for a quorum. And that means … I don’t know. Fair elections, maybe.)
But when the University decides to raise tuition by 6.5 percent — 3.5 percentage points higher than the inflation rate — do MSA representatives say anything? Nope. Not a peep.
It could establish a committee to analyze Mary Sue Coleman’s budget and look at the tuition increases, maybe invite University to officials testify why program X had to be cut, why the useless program Y saw its budget doubled, etc. Or maybe that’s too difficult.
Or when our oh-so-benevolent University revises the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities (I still call it “the Code”), saying it has granted students the right to legal representation at Code infraction hearings, just maybe MSA could pass a resolution blasting the University and then organize some sort of protest. At least MSA could do more than leave it to a former chair of the Student Rights Commission to speak up and say, well, it’s just not real legal representation when the lawyer can’t speak at the hearing — and then leave it at that.
Maybe rather than just sitting on search committees for new deans and appearing publicly with University officials to legitimize their actions, maybe MSA officials could make some noise once in a while and, dare I say, complain.
While cheap transportation to the airport is no doubt important to most out-of-state students, it’s hard to believe that running the airBus is all MSA is capable of.
Meizlish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org