Early Friday morning, it was announced that LSA juniors DeAndree Watson and Brendan Campbell had won the election to become the next president and vice president of the Michigan Student Assembly. Good for them.
A confession: I didn’t vote in the election.
That’s because I’ve lost all hope in MSA. Scandal after scandal — in only four years — has turned me into a skeptic.
For those of you who weren’t on campus yet, here’s an MSA history lesson. In late 2007, then-MSA President Zach Yost sparked a scandal when he mocked a fellow MSA member, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, via Facebook. He resigned in disgrace. This was after a member of his party had been accused of tampering with the election that placed him in office. That individual, then LSA freshman Tony Vuljaj, was later convicted of that crime — which was a felony — but somehow managed to retain his place on MSA.
Campus had a nice respite under Mohammad Dar, who took over for Yost in 2007, but then Sabrina Shingwani and Arvind Sohoni of the Michigan Action Party were elected president and vice president in 2008. They were responsible for the infamous debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which dominated two long MSA meetings and resulted in a resolution to watch a movie.
Then came my personal favorite. During the winter 2010 semester, then-MSA President Abhishek Mahanti announced that he spent $9,000 of students’ money fixing the MSA website, which never actually got up and running. The MSA website was replaced by one set up for free by an Engineering freshman in a matter of days.
And then there’s been the parade of political parties that have been born and died in the last four years. Tracking the evolution of parties gives me a little bit of a headache, but I’ll try to lay it out for you.
Watson and Campbell are members of MForward, the party that looks like it will settle in to be the most powerful on campus for a while. Back in the day, the Michigan Action Party swept elections. Then it disbanded and reformed as two separate parties — the Michigan Vision Party and the reMICHIGAN Campaign. After MVP shut down reMICHIGAN in the 2009 MSA presidential election, reMICHIGAN disappeared.
Then Mforward was born. I’ve been a little more optimistic about MForward, especially following MSA President Chris Armstrong’s cool demeanor in the face of harassment and his ability to make it out of his term without causing his own scandal.
But even though Armstrong managed not to mess anything up and Watson and Campbell haven’t done anything to make me doubt them, I still have a sinking feeling that more disaster is headed our way, courtesy of MSA officials.
MSA gets itself into trouble when it gets wrapped up in things that don’t matter or it gets a little too big for its britches. The basic function of MSA — and one it’s fairly good at — is to allocate money to student groups. Every student organization from the Squirrel Club to the Men’s Glee Club can petition to MSA for money, and it will give out about $150,000 to student organizations this semester, according to a Feb. 16 Daily article.
That’s the function that MSA should stay focused on. It’s not really an activist organization, though it can do some good by pushing for campus changes like open housing (a pet project of Armstrong’s) and advocating for students’ interests with the state. MSA fails when it starts to think too much of itself. It fails when its members start to think they’re above reproach, when they think they should focus on international issues over which they have no control, or when they think that they shouldn’t settle for a free — albeit simple — functioning website. Instead, MSA should devote itself to giving student organizations as much money as possible to encourage an active student body with a diverse set of talents and interests.
Maybe I shouldn’t care. I’m graduating in the spring. But when I return to The Michigan Daily website to check up on my alma mater in the fall, I don’t want the banner headline to read “MSA president to resign following scandal.”
So I’d like to take this moment to make a plea to Watson and Campbell: Please don’t mess this up.
Rachel Van Gilder was the Daily’s editorial page editor in 2010. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.