It’s been a tough few weeks for the Michigan Student Assembly. From the Gaza resolution debacle to the hubbub over party structure, it’s clear that whatever MSA is doing isn’t working. Though we at the Michigan Review generally choose to completely ignore MSA, I think it’s time to step in and give my thoughts on the matter.
The problem is that MSA, for whatever reason, thinks that the student body cares about what it does. But look at the facts — fewer than ten percent of the student body votes in MSA elections. Granted, that’s our fault. This lack of voter turnout means the tiny group of people who are actually interested in sitting in MSA chambers and voting on whether or not to have a Homecoming parade basically elect themselves. But let’s be honest here: just because we don’t care about who’s elected doesn’t mean that we aren’t ticked off by the rampant disregard for actual student issues. There are a multitude of concerns that MSA might attempt to answer, from the mundane — why does it take the length of the third Godfather movie to catch a Michigan bus on a weekend? — to the vital — how much does this University expect my family to pay for tuition? But apparently, MSA’s time is better spent organizing events (that no one attends) and issuing statements on world affairs (because Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert obviously cares what MSA thinks). So here’s what its new plan should be: do its job.
The true purpose of the student government is to bring the concerns of students to the administrative wing of the University. In the era of the “research university” this means reminding those who hold the University’s purse strings who they’re really here to serve: students. During an economic downturn, the University must realize that without providing greater help to the students, it will lose its only paying customers. MSA should push the University to allocate funding for projects that benefit as many undergraduate and graduate students as possible. Here’s a hint: maybe tearing down buildings and then building new buildings in the exact same place isn’t the best idea.
MSA needs to be a steward of student funds. Every year, we give MSA about eight dollars. Does anyone know where it goes? Nope. Think of how much money that is: eight dollars for 26,000 undergraduates comes out to about $208,000. One would think MSA’s website would have a great list of things that it does for students, considering the large amount of money it gets from the students. But their website’s most recent project is from 2004, affectionately labeled “this year.” Yes, they provide funding for student organizations, but let’s not forget the Ludacris debacle from 2005 (we wonder where that $20,000 went). We need the money to go to things useful for students — an updated website, buses to the airport, book lists and prices from professors and a meal plan that makes sense.
Ideological bias in MSA’s practices needs to be reduced. Going to Michigan doesn’t imply that you’ve signed on to any ideological or political platform. There’s no liberal litmus test to go here. So MSA should remember that as our representative body, it represents all Michigan students, not just the ones with which it agrees. MSA should think twice about who it invites to campus and the events it sponsors.
MSA representatives should carefully consider why they even do it. Why did they run? Is it a kick-ass addition to a résumé? A fantastic supplement to a graduate school application? That’s completely understandable. But now you are all elected officials, and it’s time to stop thinking about your personal futures. It sounds cool that you can put that Divest from Whomever petition you co-wrote on your JP Morgan Chase internship form, but it does absolutely nothing for Michigan students who can barely afford to take classes.
I know we probably don’t notice the positive things MSA has accomplished, but we also believe that MSA’s job is to stay out of the news for the wrong reasons. So go get things done.
Jane Coaston is an LSA senior.