There is no Democratic or Republican way to take out the trash, shovel snow or, in this case, run a student government.
Student government is similar to local government in that its primary tasks are not controversial. These government bodies mostly perform administrative tasks to ensure that their localities are functioning smoothly. Local governments take out the trash. The Michigan Student Assembly allocates money to student organizations.
But in certain ways, both MSA and The Michigan Daily paint a picture in which student government is analogous to the federal government in significance and controversy. MSA divides itself into political parties that supposedly have different ideological platforms (though I imagine that freshmen members simply choose the party their friends are in), and the Daily assumes the oversight role of the media — the necessary “fourth branch” of government that will keep the other branches in check.
I love the Daily, but one thing I haven’t been able to understand in my four years here is the newspaper’s never-ending feud with MSA. The Daily prints a scathing editorial of MSA on a regular basis. A student cannot simultaneously be a member of MSA and the Daily. And in my experience within the Daily’s walls, there is a near-unanimous sentiment that MSA is idiotic and dysfunctional.
When I was on the Daily’s editorial board, I asked why we had to pick apart every single decision that MSA ever makes. There are two general responses to this question. One is that the main purpose of any newspaper is to inform the public about government decisions and government wrongdoing. The other is that members of MSA could be the future politicians of America and need to learn to be responsible office holders. The main problem here is that the newspaper is being overly idealistic. Unlike with state and federal governments, the day-to-day functioning of MSA has little impact on most students. This is not because MSA members are disorganized — it’s simply how student government works by design.
Here are all the things you will ever need to know about the Michigan Student Assembly:
Most decisions that are important to students are out of student government’s jurisdiction. Two weeks ago, a Daily editorial urged students to take student government elections seriously. I think I speak for many when I say that I have zero interest in the election outcomes. The University leadership, not MSA, is responsible for important decisions such as tuition, financial aid, course offerings and campus safety. Furthermore, I’m confident that 95 percent of MSA candidates are motivated people who are qualified to assure that the organization can perform its most basic functions. It’s not worth students’ time to decide which candidates are better at allocating funding.
MSA is a student organization. MSA decisions are more scrutinized than those of any other group on campus, and such high levels of scrutiny are completely uncalled for. It’s true that there is a $7.19 tuition fee that goes directly to student government. But a lot of that money trickles down to other student groups. If one were to conduct a study on the spending practices of campus organizations, I’d hypothesize that MSA would turn out to be one of the most fiscally responsible. But since it is the only student organization constantly in the public spotlight, it is the only one that gets blamed for making mistakes.
MSA does make bad decisions, but it also makes good ones. When it comes to truly egregious errors such as the MSA website debacle in which the student government spent $9,000 on creating a non-functional website or scandals involving the MSA president, I agree that the Daily has a duty to comment. But analyzing every single resolution they passed in a semester, as Daily columnist Eaghan Davis did in a column last Tuesday, is not productive. No matter who’s in charge, there will always be useless MSA resolutions. The only way this can change is if the University gives the student government more authority.
What’s more, it seems the Daily is always hesitant to recognize MSA accomplishments. Statements that hedge on complimentary often need to be qualified with a reminder of everything that is wrong with student government (though I was pleasantly surprised to see this was not the case in an April editorial on the Open Housing Initiative).
The Daily’s beef with MSA goes back a long time, and I don’t really expect it to change. But as a staff member who has been involved in the editorial process, I don’t see any reason why it has to continue. When it comes to MSA, the Daily is often slinging mud instead of performing an editorial duty.
Jeremy Levy can be reached at email@example.com.