Tangibility. It seems to be the buzzword in this year’s elections for the Michigan Student Assembly and the LSA Student Government. As polls open today, students are suffering from a loss of faith in MSA, and many are unaware of the work of LSA-SG. For LSA-SG, progress hinges on the creation of funds and clear strategies. And to make MSA a valuable use of students’ money, its leaders must overcome students’ negative perceptions of the assembly grown from years of scandal and a litany of institutional failures to produce real results for the campus community.
The past year has seen a breakdown of students’ trust in MSA. In November, a special investigation by the Daily exposed MSA’s illegal practice of appointing student representatives to the Department of Public Safety Oversight Committee. Shortly thereafter, the Central Student Judiciary, campus’s leading judicial body, ruled that MSA President Abhishek Mahanti had unconstitutionally appointed students to a convention to overhaul the student body constitution. And, to top it all off, Mahanti revealed this month that his project to repair the MSA website not only overran its budget by $6,000, but it also failed to turn out a working product.
MSA presidential candidates are distancing themselves from these failures. It’s true that MSA’s problems are largely institutional — though the blame for the website debacle rests almost exclusively with Mahanti. But that doesn’t let MSA candidates for president and vice president off the hook. New MSA leadership must be ready and able to change the assembly and to give students results that they can see.
The Michigan Vision Party is represented by MSA presidential candidate Ian Margolis and vice-presidential candidate Tom Stuckey. The new MForward party is under the leadership of presidential candidate Chris Armstrong and vice-presidential candidate Jason Raymond. Four-time MSA presidential candidate Kate Stenvig has returned to run on the Defend Affirmative Action Party ticket, accompanied by LSA freshman Sofia Bolanos as vice-presidential candidate.
In some ways, MVP and MForward — the two most powerful parties — are surprisingly similar. Both stress student involvement. MVP has relied on direct contact through events like MSA Mondays, while MForward has reached out to a diverse group of student organizations. Both support the revamped all-campus constitution. Armstrong and Raymond value the prospective University Council’s ability to connect directly with students. Margolis has stressed the importance of impeachment — which is included in the prospective constitution — to hold representatives accountable. And, most importantly, both have said they are committed to making projects come to fruition. These types of concerns are what make both parties valuable. And no matter who becomes MSA’s president and vice president after all the ballots are counted, MVP and MForward have important — and complementary — roles to play in MSA.
MVP’s refreshingly simple platform has focused on small projects that yield obvious results. MVP has concrete ideas to improve accountability by mandating bi-weekly reports to the assembly and increase accessibility by creating a live online helpdesk. And Margolis has been heavily involved with the “Block M” at football games and the successful Go Blue, Beat OSU pep rally. Starting small seems smart, especially considering MSA’s historic failure to deliver on its promises. But these types of common sense tasks shouldn’t be the goal to strive for. They should be an expected level of functioning.
In stark contrast to MVP, MForward has campaigned on emphasizing MSA’s potential as an advocate for student concerns. MForward’s goals include halting tuition hikes and implementing long overdue gender-neutral housing options for students. But though it has set far more ambitious goals than MVP, MForward has nonetheless kept most of their promises within the boundaries of MSA’s responsibilities. Admittedly, efforts to stop tuition hikes are probably futile. But MForward could make gender-neutral housing a reality. Armstrong, the former chair of the LBGT Commission, has a record of making things happen — even when it’s difficult. He was instrumental in bringing the 2011 Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Ally College Conference to the University. MForward has the enthusiasm and experience to reach their — albeit large — goals.
Yet, there must be a balance between ambition and realism. And DAAP, as usual, has a list of goals far beyond the scope of MSA’s power, showing that the party simply doesn’t understand of the role of MSA. Stenvig isn’t a representative: She’s an activist. But as important as activism is, MSA doesn’t have the jurisdiction to address her causes.
And DAAP’s vice-presidential candidate simply isn’t qualified. Bolanos is a freshman. She doesn’t have the experience to prepare her to serve as vice president of MSA.
Students want to see the results of MSA action in their lives — and they should see these results. But MVP may be setting its standards too low. One of MSA’s most important achievements over the past year was its lobbying for the Good Samaritan Law, not the campus concert scheduled for later this month. And while MForward’s dedication to advocacy may seem lofty at first, their goals are within reach. Under the leadership of Armstrong, it seems like MForward’s ambition will pay off for the student body.
But consistent progress on the smaller issues that MVP has stressed is important, too. MForward shouldn’t lose sight of its primary responsibility to fund student organizations and make student life better in a variety of tangible ways as it pushes for big changes. But the competence Armstrong and Raymond exhibit inspires trust that they can balance big advocacy with small improvements.
As usual, this year’s election for LSA-SG president and vice president is uncontested. But even though presidential candidate Steven Benson and vice-presidential candidate Carly Goldberg are unopposed, they have built a focused vision for the future of LSA’s governing body.
Benson and Goldberg have demonstrated a clear grasp of the issues affecting their constituents and a passion for finding solutions to their concerns. The pair seeks to raise awareness of student rights, host a career fair comparable to those of the College of Engineering and the Ross School of Business and improve their transparency by increasing interaction with the student body. This platform presents an agenda with achievable goals that will make students’ lives easier in tangible ways.
Speaking directly to LSA-SG’s promise to deliver is a ballot question to raise the amount of money funneled to LSA-SG from student tuition by $0.50. This initiative would raise an additional $7,000 to fund student organizations. Due to the language of the ballot question, the money would be apportioned solely for distribution among organizations no matter how the annual budget allocation changes. The increase would facilitate student engagement on campus without inflicting any significant burden on the student body.
Benson and Goldberg also have ample experience. Benson has trimmed the fat in the body’s internal spending to increase the money that LSA-SG gives back to student organizations. Goldberg is the current chair of the LSA-SG appointments committee, and she has highlighted the need to undertake quality projects as opposed to doing as many projects as possible.
While their proposals will clearly benefit students, their ideas can’t become a reality without more concrete strategies to implement them. For example, more active efforts could be done to utilize connections with LSA alumni to improve the caliber of the attending companies at LSA career fairs. Yet, while they need more specific plans to execute their agenda, there is no reason to believe they won’t succeed and improve the lives of students across campus.
The Daily’s Editorial Board endorses MForward candidates CHRIS ARMSTRONG and JASON RAYMOND for MSA president and vice president. We also endorse STEVEN BENSON and CARLY GOLDBERG for LSA-SG president and vice president.