A year ago, as a leader of the College Democrats, I sat on a committee that endorsed a slate of Michigan Student Assembly candidates including those from the Michigan Vision Party. The College Democrats endorsed MVP candidates on the promise they would make MSA accountable, transparent and relevant to the needs of the student body. Unfortunately, MVP’s clouded vision of improving campus through “small victories” has been overshadowed by massive failures of competency and responsibility in areas that directly affect the lives of students at the University.
It’s not an overstatement to say that, for the past year, MVP has been MIA.
MVP promised to deliver a new, innovative MSA website. Last week, it was announced repairs to the MSA website came with a nearly $9,000 price tag. I expected a high quality product that would provide a dynamic forum for students and student organizations to interact with MSA and each other. However, the $9,000 website was never debuted and was replaced by a free website created by an MSA representative. Additionally, MVP debuted a website that was poorly designed, confusing and a step backward in functionality.
The $9,000 price tag is a heinous abuse of the money every student pays to MSA in fees. Hours upon hours were billed for a project that was behind schedule and of subpar quality. MSA representatives were kept in the dark on project costs and were only presented with the $9,000 bill after the project was completed. MVP made this website a signature issue during its 2009 campaign, but its initial vision seems to have been clouded by a severe lack of oversight and leadership.
Michigan students put a lot of trust in MSA to spend their money wisely and mismanagement of funds is a violation of that trust. MVP’s first order of business after their successful election last year was to remodel the MSA chambers in the Michigan Union. This costly renovation diverted both money and attention away from critical issues, like tuition increases, during the summer months. For the past year, MVP has pursued shortsighted priorities such as this, which don’t address issues that truly matter to students.
We, as students, must reconsider other major expenditures approved by MSA — like the $25,000 to bring Wale to campus for a concert this year. While I am excited for this concert, students are still required to pay for tickets to an event that is essentially subsidized by our tuition fees. Where was the transparency that MVP promised us when they made this $25,000 decision? This question is especially vital at a time when President Mary Sue Coleman is bracing us for tuition hikes.
An issue MVP touts as a success is the increase in student organization funding, but the process remains too complicated and shuts out many qualified applicants. This year, only 37 percent of applicants were approved for funding, as noted in a Feb. 24 Daily report. This statistic should be reversed. The entire campus is hurt when funding is denied and events that would have otherwise enriched campus are weakened or canceled altogether. MVP should focus on increasing funding for all organizations, not just those who traditionally receive funding.
I find the negligence of basic follow-through on the part of MVP astounding. For instance, the fall MSA elections were rescheduled to the days immediately following Thanksgiving Break because the proper emails were not sent out in time to notify the student body, violating the MSA Compiled Code.
I was surprised when I read in a recent viewpoint in the Daily that MVP wishes to “continue fighting for students’ rights” (A continued vision for MVP, 03/08/2010). For a year, I have neither seen nor heard MVP leaders advocating on behalf of the issues most important for students. I watched MSA crumble last summer in the face of tuition hikes, and I have seen no MVP leadership focused on fighting Coleman’s predicted tuition increase. I am paying more out of pocket because my student government is willing to accept what Coleman calls “modest” increases in tuition (Coleman: ‘U’ tuition levels likely to rise next year, 03/08/2010). The student body can no longer accept even “modest” increases and neither should MSA.
I was hopeful last year that new MSA leadership would reconnect the assembly with students and make it relevant again on campus. MVP leadership has failed at every level to follow through on those promises, from debuting a new website to speaking out on student issues. It’s time for new leadership that is willing to take a stand and truly put in the work needed to represent students at the University.
Nathaniel Eli Coats Styer is a Public Policy senior.