Our University’s long-standing commitment to free speech and diversity of ideas is now facing a new attack, this time from some of our elected student leaders. This Tuesday, the Michigan Student Assembly is considering a resolution to impose arbitrary political censorship and drastic limits on the portion of its meetings that is devoted to community concerns. The resolution purports to “modernize” MSA meetings, and the rationale presented for this draconian proposal is that some members of the University community have used their allotted time to yell at the assembly.

Yelling? Really? My, how sensitive! While manners are often an indicator of social class, neither poor manners nor low class should exclude anyone from participating in the democratic process, nor should elected representatives be spared their criticisms. This should be obvious to anyone remotely acquainted with the principles of democracy. The proposed resolution is a blatant attempt to silence any difference of opinion and demonstrates that the authors of the resolution deserve to face more yelling, not less.

Especially disturbing is that the resolution would give the executive board power of censorship in determining which items are a “topic of interest” for the assembly and which are not. But on quite a few occasions, whole groups of minority students, including black and Arab students, have approached the assembly only to be told that their concerns are not relevant to students — meaning not relevant to white students. The real message in each of those cases was that the minority students themselves were irrelevant. No such abuse of power should be permitted from any member of any democratic body. Minority students, in particular, have been the targets of these abuses.

Then there is the rule of arbitrary censorship against all non-student members of the community. Having to apply two business days in advance and hope that the czars of the assembly grant you an audience is ridiculous. Dozens of student organizations work with people from our community and from around the world. The quality of life of every student is directly affected by the actions of professors, administrators, local officials and world-renowned politicians. There is indeed life outside the bubble of this campus. If the assembly has any intention of combating the rising costs of higher education, defending and expanding financial aid programs, reversing the drop in underrepresented minority student enrollment and ending the military’s drain on precious potential funds for education, does anyone really think that we can accomplish any of these things without working alongside people from outside our student body? And if there is no intention of accomplishing such things, then what on earth are these anti-free speech tyrants doing in our student government in the first place?

Far from modernizing the assembly, the proposed resolution would transform our student government into something more like an ancient despotism. Unfortunately, that would be painfully consistent with the recent actions of the MSA leadership, in recent years, which include giving the Steering Committee (which is not elected by the student body) the veto power to prevent any resolution from being discussed by the assembly; maneuvering behind closed doors to remove opponents from elections; creating an Internet group to degrade and insult a disabled representative; engaging in shady financial transactions; and attempting to disenfranchise the entire School of Public Policy by not permitting it to have even a single representative. We can’t afford to leave organized student democracy in the hands of those who are trying to destroy it by transforming it into a bureaucratic playpen of snobbery and impotence. It has been much better — it can be much better.

We must turn to the future. Our membership in this student body grants us unique opportunities to change our world for better or worse. The current economic crisis is taking its strongest toll on the poorest and most disadvantaged students, many of whom are struggling to stay enrolled and many of whom are still in grade school and struggling to attain any higher education at all. We must not allow the construction of an ivory tower to seclude our student government from those who most need it.

Kate Stenvig is an MSA representative from Rackham.

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