I was perusing MSNBC last Friday when I stumbled across an Associated Press article (Wall Street’s entitlement culture hard to shake, 01/23/09). The basic point of the article was that CEOs of banks and other executives on Wall Street have been making too much money for too long a time. Even as the nation’s economy spiraled downward and their companies began tanking, many of these executives refused to take salary cuts or scale back their luxurious lifestyles. The problem, the article insists, is: “a deeply ingrained culture of entitlement at financial companies.”

This had me thinking about how a culture of entitlement develops. Feeling entitled means you think you deserve something simply by virtue of being you, and a culture of entitlement is one where everyone who is part of the gang automatically feels like they deserve something, too. But when did these powerful people start feeling entitled as a group? As I was pondering this, I started thinking that maybe the culture of entitlement starts earlier for these people. And then, as I reflected on the actions of the Michigan Student Assembly, I realized that there is a similar culture of entitlement surrounding the University’s own student government.

Most students on campus should by now be familiar with MSA’s history of not accomplishing anything that its representatives promise to do when they are running for election. Most students should also be aware of what MSA has been up to lately: many hours of their January 13 and 21 meetings were dedicated to debating a resolution on the crisis in Gaza. The final version that was eventually passed by the assembly expressed regret for the loss of life in Gaza and called for the American Movement for Israel and Students Allied for Freedom and Equality to show a documentary about six Jewish women and six Arabic women who come together peacefully.

There are those who believe that MSA’s resolution did not go far enough, and that the assembly should take stronger stances on this issue and other such international crises. But these people need to understand that fanciful resolutions calling for the end to wars that MSA has no influence over are a waste of time. Eight dollars of every student’s tuition goes to MSA so that its members can administer to student’s immediate needs, not so that they can pretend to be ambassadors to the United Nations.

MSA’s continuing disregard for students’ wishes is evidence that the assembly subscribes to a culture of entitlement. Though they may not be awarding themselves lucrative salaries like Wall Street CEOs, they have awarded themselves the right to ignore their actual jobs. They don’t feel the need to work on student issues, they don’t care to explain themselves, and they don’t feel a responsibility to uphold any of the promises they make to their constituents.

We elected these representatives to accomplish a job. Only nine percent of the student body voted, and we didn’t realistically have a diverse selection of candidates because of the Michigan Action Party’s dominance in MSA, but MSA’s current representatives were still hired by us. In the same sense, they should work for us and feel accountable to us.

If they did feel accountable, they would have to spend time handling our issues – and there are plenty for them to address. Every election cycle, students are promised that something will be done about the lack of streetlights in certain campus areas. Every election cycle, students are promised that MSA will be listening to their concerns and addressing them. MSA is supposed to be our voice to the University on tuition, health care, housing and a host of other issues.

MSA members may protest being considered part of a culture of entitlement, but the evidence is against them. For the ultimate example, look no further than MSA’s website. The last project that the website lists as being completed is Michael Moore’s visit in September of 2004. The website lists the minutes of meetings up until fall of 2008, when even this information runs out. So even if MSA was accomplishing things that students care about, they wouldn’t have a way to check and see what the assembly was doing. The fact that MSA presidential candidates have been promising to fix this website for years is proof that they think they never have to.

How long does this go on before we have to stop questioning the actions of MSA representatives and start questioning MSA as an institution? If the assembly is not serving the needs of students and is instead acting as a breeding ground for a lifetime of entitlement, when do we say enough?

The federal government is now punishing Wall Street CEOs for their reckless careers. When and how will we do the same to MSA?

Robert Soave is the Daily’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at rsoave@umich.edu.

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