As a representative-elect for the College of Engineering — specifically, one who ran as an independent — I’d like to share my reaction to Alex Schiff’s recent viewpoint regarding the Michigan Student Assembly (Hey MSA, make yourself matter, 12/03/2009).
I believe it can be generally agreed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an issue that isn’t directly relevant to MSA. MSA is a place to serve the student body within the context of the University. There are many international issues that our world faces today, and for MSA to respond with a position or action to some of them would arguably not be an efficient use of the assembly’s efforts. Student organizations have every right to lobby state and federal legislative bodies to action, and MSA has the duty to defend that right, but it seems unreasonable for the student government to tackle these itself. On this topic, I agree with Schiff that such issues are largely irrelevant to the assembly.
Although Schiff continues to provide legitimate concerns, my agreement with his argument may end with his stance on the aforementioned. To reduce MSA to nothing “more than a glorified middle school student council with fancy websites” is rather extreme. MSA controls a budget that is within hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’d be interested to learn about any middle school student council commanding such funds. Furthermore, MSA’s website could be much “fancier.” The functionality and resources it provides to students should be improved.
It may be that many students are apathetic to MSA. I find this to be unfortunate, however legitimate it may be. Perhaps if students cared more, things would actually change. Democratic governments do not function well without participation from their constituents. Schiff must have come from one large high school for his “high school class president” election to garnish as many votes as the MSA election did. Yet the point is understood — the student turnout is terribly low.
This may result, in large part, from the great amount of ignorance students have when it comes to MSA. I have encountered many individuals who don’t know what the acronym stands for, let alone what the assembly does. I believe this is largely the fault of the assembly for not educating students about their student government. One possible solution is to establish some presence during orientation to introduce students to MSA.
I may have the most contention with Schiff’s argument against both the party system and independent candidates. I didn’t seek to be a party candidate because I didn’t feel like the parties were very highly regarded by students, nor was I very educated on what the parties stood for and their track records. Therefore, I chose to be an independent. To compare independent candidates to “emo kids in high school that told you they don’t have a label” is a bit ridiculous. I ran on a platform. I am an independent because I wanted to represent myself and my specific views — not that those views are uncommon.
The problems with electing representatives to the Department of Public Safety Oversight Committee have been addressed, albeit rather late. It was unjustifiable to violate state law. However, the reasoning behind the appointment method — though found to be illegal — is logical. If the voter turnout for MSA representative elections is quite low, one can imagine what the numbers may be for a direct election for the committee. It may simply be decided by who has more friends. The legitimacy of one’s interest could therefore be an issue; it must be more than a résumé booster.
The issues come down to a lack of transparency and accountability. MSA must communicate its proceedings in a convenient manner to the student body. One positive change is that WOLV-TV will begin broadcasting MSA meetings live next semester. The average public turnout to the meetings is generally quite low, and I hope that TV coverage will eliminate the excuse that it is convenient to venture to the third floor of the Michigan Union to watch the meetings. I hope further improvements to transparency are made through greater communication and publication of documents. In exchange for the right to transparency, the student body has the duty to hold MSA accountable for its actions and to participate more actively.
I appreciate that Schiff cared enough about MSA to write a viewpoint. I hope that more students might care as much.
Kyle Summers is an Engineering freshman.