In the most recent Michigan Student Assembly elections, the student body narrowly elected the Michigan Vision Party presidential candidates to run the assembly. Or at least that’s what roughly 13 percent of students who actually voted did. But despite low turnout, MSA still has a responsibility to the entire student body, and the Michigan Vision party needs to act quickly to implement some long-overdue changes. With a new party in charge, it’s finally time for MSA to fix its transparency issues. The assembly should start by making sure that the rationale behind how funding is allocated to student groups is better understood — and such information should be readily available to students on MSA’s website.
MSA managed to give out more money to student groups this year than in previous years. In difficult economic times — when financial backers may be willing to spend less on student groups — MSA’s role in allocating funds to these groups is more important than ever. And the process to apply for funding from MSA was made easier in response to complaints that the previous system was too complicated. Initiated at the beginning of last semester, the new procedure for requesting funding from MSA’s Budget Priorities and Community Service Committees requires students to fill out only one form.
Though the process for receiving funding is simpler, the reasons for why some funding decisions are made can still be mysterious. This can be an issue for newer groups who may not have the institutional knowledge that comes with applying for funding several times. To assure that student groups aren’t surprised and confused by funding decisions, MSA needs to make sure an explanation of the decision-making process is readily available to all students. With a better understanding of this, students won’t have to wonder how funding decisions are made.
Being clearer about funding decisions is one way that MSA can start solving its transparency issues. But the assembly has struggled for years to keep students informed about what it’s doing, and there are plenty of other things the assembly needs to fix. While the new administration has displayed a willingness to combat this problem, more can be done.
A glaring example is the recent disclosure of MSA’s attendance record. On average, 30 percent of MSA representatives were absent at each meeting last semester. This number of absences certainly impacted the assembly’s ability to govern effectively and students should have been aware before heading to the polls. For the sake of accountability, students need to know which of their representatives are showing up to meetings.
A good place to list such information would be MSA’s website. The website should ideally be MSA’s best method of informing students about its decisions Sadly, it has been neglected by the assembly for years. The Michigan Vision Party must make good on its campaign promise to present students with a better one so that students can effectively check up on their representatives.
While progress is being made on issues like simplifying the funding process, MSA still has a long road ahead of it.