It’s hard to know where to even begin discussing the Michigan Student Assembly’s most recent disappointment. Last week, MSA President Abhishek Mahanti announced that MSA had drastically exceeded its budget to repair and update its website, which has long been in need of update. MSA spent an appalling $9,000 on graphic and web designers, though it budgeted only $3,000 for the project. Not only did MSA mismanage its funds, it isn’t even using the website it spent $9,000 attempting to fix. MSA has failed to justify the trust that students place in it to spend their money wisely, and it has a responsibility to monitor its use of funds more closely in the future.

On Monday, Jim Brusstar, MSA’s student general counsel, sent an e-mail to MSA representatives that said that MSA had overspent its website redesign budget by about $6,000. At the MSA meeting on Tuesday, Mahanti took responsibility for the mistake, saying that he was unaware of how many hours designers had spent working on the website. He apologized to the assembly and promised to fix the problem. He said that the website, which he has been leading efforts to repair since April, had more problems than he and the web designers were capable of fixing. That website has since been abandoned. Brusstar has now been placed in charge of the project. MSA Engineering Representative Kyle Summers built the site that MSA is currently using for free, according to Summers.

Mahanti’s excuses and apologies have come too late. To be entirely clear, MSA spent $9,000 of the money it gets from students on a product that, despite hours of work, failed to function correctly. It essentially spent $9,000 on nothing. And since the website currently in use — which is functional, if admittedly simple — was created for free, it’s suspect that MSA originally budgeted $3,000 for the project in the first place. The amount of money that was wasted on the failed website is absurd.

Allocating funding to student groups is MSA’s primary responsibility, so it’s alarming that the organization so dramatically failed to manage its own finances. While the assembly did dole out more money to student groups this semester than ever before, that money still comes from students and most be used properly in all situations. Students should be able to trust the student government to responsibly handle the money they contribute. MSA’s failure to manage students’ money has violated the trust between the assembly and the students it serves.

Much of the responsibility for this mess falls squarely on Mahanti. MSA’s website has been a consistent problem over the years, and a number of MSA presidents have campaigned on promises to fix it — Mahanti chief among them. And as a computer science engineering major, Mahanti should have been uniquely qualified among MSA representatives to actually make good on the promise. But this fiasco is representative of a much larger problem. The oversight of big projects is a central part of Mahanti’s position as president. Mahanti’s failure to manage a project for which he took personal responsibility calls into question his ability to lead MSA.

But the rest of MSA must share some of the blame for this debacle. MSA representatives should have questioned the lag in progress on the website, which was supposed to have been ready for use in the fall. Had the lack of results been challenged earlier, the excess costs of labor may have been noticed sooner. But there was no oversight from the assembly, and so the problem was unaddressed for months as the costs piled up.

MSA exists to improve student life on campus, and the assembly has repeatedly failed at fulfilling this role. This event is sure to stick in students’ memories, along with the meeting last year when MSA wasted hours discussing a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, over which it has no jurisdiction. Pledges to work with the Ann Arbor City Council to improve off-campus lighting continue to go unfulfilled. The failed website is a testament to MSA’s ongoing incompetence.

At the end of the day, this project was simply a disaster. And MSA has a responsibility to students to make sure that similar failures don’t happen in the future. Students trust MSA with their money, and MSA must pay students back with results.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.