Some students may recall the mockery that the Michigan Student Assembly made of itself last winter when it spent several meetings debating the passage of a resolution on the conflict in Gaza. In light of the derailment of MSA that resulted from discussing these issues at length, MSA is now considering a resolution that would focus debate by changing the policies for hearing community concerns. MSA should approve the proposal because it needs to focus on its true purpose — improving life for students, not grandstanding on issues better left to world governing bodies.

Tonight, MSA is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would make changes to a controversial portion of its meetings called “community concerns.” This portion of the agenda currently allows any member of the community, regardless of University affiliation, to voice opinions on any issue. The proposed resolution would reduce the time limit on each speaker from five minutes to three minutes. It would also require anyone without a valid Mcard who wants to speak to apply two days prior to the meeting. MSA executives would then determine whether or not the concern would be heard. MSA representatives noted that this policy is not designed to limit or even stop community members from speaking out about community concerns but rather to cut down on wasted time.

While it may be unfortunate that MSA needs to limit the community concerns portion of its meetings, this change is clearly necessary. In the past, community concerns time has been monopolized by certain residents who speak at length on numerous issues that MSA has no business debating. No matter how important conflicts in the Middle East may be — and no matter how many students may feel passionately about them — resolutions on these issues don’t accomplish anything. Spending time on the inevitable debate that ensues when these concerns are voiced is a waste of MSA’s time, and it justifiably annoys the student population.

It is important for community concerns to be heard. There needs to be a beneficial and progressive relationship between the students, community members and student government in public meetings. But asking non-student community members to apply beforehand is reasonable to prevent the meetings from being monopolized by unproductive debate. MSA leaders should proceed carefully and ensure that valid, pressing community issues are cleared for discussion at meetings.

Students and residents have a right to address the assembly, but they shouldn’t abuse this right to hijack the meetings of a governing body that should be tackling issues like campus lighting, rising tuition costs and landlord-tenant agreements. MSA can only play a more productive role within the University if it concentrates on these issues and stays away from foreign policy. Passing this resolution is a good way to ensure that MSA is able to get to work fulfilling its true role.

With responsible leadership, this policy change can only improve dialogue at MSA. The assembly should vote to approve it at its meeting tonight.

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