Today, elections begin for the Michigan Student Assembly and your school or college government. If you’ve read the candidate statements, your vote may hinge on who has the most experience, who would do the best job or even — in the case of at least one past MSA election — which candidate handed you a free Coke on the Diag.
It’s more likely that you’re not planning to vote at all. You pay for student government, but you may feel like little of that money comes back to you, personally. Student government is difficult to follow, nobody seems to know who is in charge and it doesn’t create camaraderie across disciplines.
But today when you log on to vote, alongside seats for school and college representatives and MSA president, you’ll find MSA Ballot Question One. The ballot asks students to replace the existing student constitution with a new version proposed by Students for Progressive Governance.
S4PG is an organization of University undergraduate, graduate and professional students who have spent the last year reviewing and redrafting the current student constitution. S4PG’s proposal would fundamentally change student government in three principal ways.
First, the new constitution would provide every student with greater access to the student budget. Every semester, each student pays $7.19 to University-wide student programming. That money goes to MSA, where it is divided and doled out to organizations and commissions most of us have little contact with.
The new constitution would create the University Council — a body in which school and college government representatives can call for a vote on any resolution proposed by their constituents. If the Council approves the resolution, it will be put before MSA for consideration. That means that if you want access to the University’s student programming budget, anyone on your school or college government can help you get it.
The new constitution would also improve clarity and accountability in student government. MSA’s current organizational structure is a mishmash of overlapping duties and prerogatives. When something goes wrong, nobody is held responsible.
Now go to S4PG.info and look at the organization charts created by the new constitution. The charts look cut-and-pasted from your 7th-grade social studies textbook: a two-chambered legislature, a unitary executive, and an independent judiciary. And there’s a reason for this. We want government to be familiar to students and approachable. We want you to know who to call or e-mail when things go wrong and who to re-elect when things go right.
Third, the new constitution would encourage greater collaboration among students across campus. The University Council would simultaneously concentrate and disperse the best ideas and practices from student governments across campus. A more democratic student judiciary will incorporate a greater range of student voices. And clearer executive authority over University commissions will maximize efficiency in student programming.
Unavoidably, the new constitution has flaws, too. It was created by a diverse, dedicated collection of students, but when such a collection convenes for the benefit of their joint wisdom, it must accept the biases, local interests and errors in judgment of the members, too.
There is no doubt S4PG made several such errors. But this constitution’s weaknesses are no match for its virtues: access, clarity, and collaboration. See for yourself — log on to S4PG.info. Read the current constitution and the changes proposed by S4PG. Then go to vote.umich.edu and cast your ballot.
Vote yes on MSA Ballot Question One, and you’ll have more accessible, more accountable and more collaborative student government.
Mike Rorro is the chair of Students for Progressive Governance and MSA vice president.