Already, the Michigan Student Assembly has been making headlines – albeit for the wrong reasons. The back-to-back resignations of prominent MSA members threatens to undermine the integrity of this vital institution. The high turnover in the Students for Michigan party also sends a mixed message to the students who supported the party in last spring’s election and adds to the unstable nature of MSA as a whole.
The resignations of MSA Vice President Alicia Benavides and of Rep. Stuart Wagner were not only surprising but also disheartening. While it is true that the duties these individuals undertook were demanding, they were duties these students not only signed up for, but also doggedly campaigned to receive.
As two of the most prominent and experienced members on the Students for Michigan ticket, Benavides and Wagner helped to ensure their own success, as well as an overall win for their party. Representing the public face of an elected party carries with it a certain measure of responsibility and accountability, two ideals now compromised by the recent string of resignations.
The fact that two important positions on MSA will now be appointed as opposed to elected is also disturbing, and threatens to make a mockery of the already flawed election process.
Extremely low voter turnout is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to creating an assembly that can better serve the student body; competitive elections are the best way to ensure the competence and overall dedication of an elected official. This low voter turnout is partly the result of apathy, but also of confusion and the frequent restructuring of parties.
Students First became Students for Michigan, the U Party disbanded and, in the meantime, students have been left behind to sort out the pieces. The lack of true competition in last spring’s MSA elections allowed Students for Michigan to claim to be all things for all people, marginalizing single-issue parties and making real progress on any one issue unlikely.
Students would be better served by a system in which each party has a definite, well-articulated platform. This would alleviate confusion among students and guide MSA toward the most important items on the laundry list of student issues.
Nevertheless, apathy toward MSA cannot be blamed completely on the institution itself. Students often overlook the importance of the assembly, believing it has little relevance in their daily lives. Hot-button issues like divestment do invoke surges of student involvement in MSA, but the greater apathy suggests a lack of understanding about the array of important issues MSA is responsible for, such as the funding of student groups on campus.
Student interest in MSA elections, as well as in its day-to-day functioning, should be significantly higher. The institution works hard to provide services students have come to rely on, such as the airBus, which shuttles students safely and inexpensively to and from Detroit Metro Airport on vacations.
Reform of MSA will not be a quick process. The current administration is constrained by the actions of its past leaders, and student apathy leaves elected officials largely unaccountable. True improvement will depend on the willingness of future MSA candidates to break out of the catch-all party system that is continuously changing names but not ideas. There must also be widespread acknowledgement among students of the importance of a student-run, student-elected governing body.
MSA has the potential to be an important voice for students on this campus, but as long as resignations make the news more often than actual initiatives, it will continue to be written off as a sickly institution – a vehicle for creating real progress that has all but been abandoned.