If any students were still unconvinced of the ineptitude of the Michigan Student Assembly, Monday night’s Town Hall Meeting has surely convinced them. Setting the tone for the night was yet another laughable tirade against the “Zionists” allegedly in control of MSA and, by extension, U.S. foreign policy. What followed was as equally detached from reality; MSA and other student government leaders took questions from a small audience of about forty people (comprised mostly of those already in student government), assuaging their concerns with nothing more than recycled and unfulfilled campaign promises. MSA has spouted a lot of rhetoric of late regarding “accountability,” but this is not it.

Over the past week, MSA’s Gaza resolution debacle has brought on a deluge of coverage detailing its shortcomings, but none were as telling as Monday’s Letter to the Editor (Student government leaders to hold Town Hall Meeting, 2/2/2009) penned by none other than the presidents of MSA, LSA Student Government and the University of Michigan Engineering Council: Sabrina Shingwani, Leslie Zaikis and Danny Hsiao, respectively. The central thesis of their letter seems to be that better communication with students will lead to more effective student governments. On the surface, this is hard to disagree with. A dialogue with constituents is essential for an efficient government, student or otherwise.

The problem is that it’s completely insincere. If MSA truly wanted transparency, it might consider updating its website. The most recently listed meeting minutes and resolutions are a full 11 months out of date. Likewise, this letter would seem to be the extent of MSA’s advertising for the town hall meeting. Where was the mass email? Where were all the flyers? A meeting with the public doesn’t work if the public doesn’t know where or when to meet.

The letter goes on to play one of the oldest (and, incidentally, least effective) cards in the political deck — blaming the media. The authors, in an attempt to shirk responsibility for their administrations’ lack of transparency, compares MSA to NASA. She claims that, like NASA, only MSA’s failures are publicized while their successes go unnoticed. While comparing MSA to a U.S. government agency is an interesting attempt at implying legitimacy, the comparison is ridiculous. If this is truly the case, then I challenge the student governments to explain why every robot that gets shipped off to Mars is front-page news.

If MSA is hurting for some positive press, it has no one to blame but itself. Sure, not everything MSA does right will make the papers. But with a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the lack of newsworthy projects or initiatives is simply a disgrace.

The letter from the presidents exposes the “town hall meeting” for what it really was — not an opportunity for real feedback, but rather a public relations band-aid to stem the recent bleeding only long enough for inevitable student apathy to kick back in.

So how do we fix MSA and finally restore accountability to student government? The solution is quite simple — we must rid ourselves of the single-party system. That means we need an alternative to the Michigan Action Party. Despite years of stagnation and scandal (remember Zack Yost and Anton Vuljaj?), and the same unfulfilled campaign “promises” each semester, MAP continues its single-party reign over student government. Without another party in serious contention, voters cannot oust the ineffectual party from office. Consequently, our elections have become just about as meaningless as North Korea’s.

If there is any real leadership left in student government, your mandate is clear. Break off from your party bosses and forge into the future under a new banner. The voters will reward you. Until you do, your “town hall meetings” will remain nothing more than “Tammany Hall Meetings.”

Jim Brusstar is an Engineering sophomore.

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