At the Michigan Student Assembly’s meeting every Tuesday night, 57 seats are supposed to be filled by the student government representatives. But at recent meetings, attendees might have noticed a large number of empty seats.
MSA has faced ongoing challenges this semester to fill seat vacancies at its weekly meetings, hindering its ability to effectively represent the student body, MSA officials said. The problem is twofold — not all of MSA representative seats are filled, and for those that are, attendance has recently been low.
Speaker of the Assembly Matthew Eral said 38 of the available 57 representative seats on the assembly are occupied. Three schools — the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Medical School and School of Social Work— never elected MSA representatives this term.
“It boggles my mind,” Eral said. “ … There is no way that in the University we cannot find … people that want to represent students and debate issues on their behalf.”
In addition to the complete lack of representatives in the three schools, eight colleges — LSA, College of Engineering, Rackham Graduate School, School of Information and the College of Pharmacy — have representative vacancies. Rackham, which has a total of 10 possible seats in the assembly, hasn’t sent any representatives to meetings this semester since all of the original write-in representatives resigned.
Eral said the problem of low attendance at MSA meetings is a two-way street between representatives and their constituents. He said students don’t seem to understand the importance of their representatives attending MSA meetings.
“The reps don’t feel pressure from the constituents, and the constituents don’t (receive any news) from the reps,” Eral said. “There’s very little communication in terms of MSA directly to the students.”
MSA President DeAndree Watson said it’s important students know when their representatives are absent and how their absenteeism prevents the development of a strong student government. Without full participation, MSA lacks “passionate, enthusiastic people serving those positions” and cannot represent the student population objectively, Watson said.
To bridge the gap, MSA announced a Representative Outreach Task Force at the assembly’s meeting Tuesday night in an effort to promote communication between students and their individual governments, Eral said.
“We do have a very tangible effort,” Eral said. “It’s just when representatives don’t come to represent their students, everyone’s hurt.”
Despite the low attendance, the assembly has achieved quorum at every meeting this semester, according to Eral. But the lack of representation is impacting the assembly’s effectiveness, he said.
Eral pointed to the example of when MSA didn’t take action on the issue of bargaining rights for graduate student research assistants when members of the Graduate Employees Organization attended the assembly’s Oct. 11 meeting. Members of MSA felt they didn’t have enough information on the subject since Rackham representatives weren’t in attendance, Eral explained.
“If Rackham students had representatives there, the Rackham voice could have been heard,” Eral said. “Ten people supporting a graduate student issue — that would have done a lot.”
Michael Benson, president of Rackham Student Government, said no graduate student was on the March 2011 ballot to run for an MSA representative position. Benson was unaware the Rackham representatives had resigned until he received a letter from Eral. However, Benson said that in the past five years, MSA has only passed one resolution specific to graduate students that significantly affected them.
“I don’t think many new initiatives that affect grad students come out of this assembly,” Benson said.