It’s been quite a year for the Michigan Student Assembly. Marred by scandal, felony charges and resignations, the dominant Michigan Action Party has struggled to distance itself from the problems of its defunct predecessor Students 4 Michigan. In the elections starting tomorrow, the students will decide whether MAP’s latest MSA presidential and vice presidential candidates and its unchallenged LSA Student Government candidates are desirable enough to forgive a term of scandal – or at least more desirable than the limited options offered by the Defend Affirmative Action Party.
This year’s MSA presidential election pits MAP candidates Sabrina Shingwani and Arvind Sohoni against DAAP’s Kate Stenvig and Maricruz Lopez. For the top LSA-SG spot, MAP candidates Leslie Zaikis and John Monaghan are running unopposed.
Except for the candidates’ names, this year’s contest is virtually a repeat of last year’s election. Many of the issues on MAP’s platform and nearly all of the issues on DAAP’s platforms are the same. MAP’s victory over DAAP in the MSA presidential contest is almost ensured. And save an underdog victory by annual write-in candidate Mickey Mouse, MAP is certain to lock up LSA-SG’s top spot, too.
While this shouldn’t discourage students from voting, it’s still a shame. When it was revealed last year that former MSA President Zack Yost created a Facebook group mocking another MSA representative’s disability, students decried MSA’s insular culture. Now, Yost is gone, and students seem to have forgotten that the problems this scandal illustrated still remain.
Groomed in this environment, MAP candidates Shingwani and Sohoni are hardly outsiders to the system. Even the fact that Shingwani – a devoted but less experienced and less knowledgeable candidate than Sohoni – is at the top of the ticket instead of her running mate smacks of the internal politicking that is MSA’s biggest problem. While both express commitment to making MSA more open and improving dialogue on campus, it’s not clear how they plan to do this. Neither were vocal opponents of Yost when he was embroiled in controversy, but both claim to have learned by his example. They now know what not to do in the future. But that’s not good enough.
While padded with some frivolous proposals like a vague plan to improve alumni career connections, the MAP platform partially redeems Shingwani and Sohoni. The party’s intended projects – including the implementation of a revitalized website, an emphasis on lower student health insurance costs and improved transparency – should be important to students. Granted, these projects do seem like they are just part of a noncontroversial to-do list recycled from this semester’s unfinished projects. The bigger test will be whether these two candidates have the skill to make them a reality.
In contrast to the MAP candidates, the DAAP candidates are clearly outside of MSA’s dominant culture, but weaker on substance. As passionate as the DAAP candidates are, their experience as perpetual campaigners doesn’t seem to have taught them much about what students want out of student government.
When it comes to the issues, the Daily shares DAAP’s opposition to racism, tuition hikes and the war in Iraq. We support Stenvig and Lopez’s goals of promoting diversity on campus, combating the negative effects of Michigan’s ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action and fighting Ward Connerly’s national efforts to eradicate affirmative action.
However, DAAP’s platform remains basically unchanged from last year’s elections, leaving out stances on campus-specific issues like street lighting and lease ordinances. DAAP claims that its stances on these issues are common sense. But they’re not. It may be common for a student to oppose high textbook prices, but it’s up to the MSA president to find uncommon solutions. The problem is that Stenvig and Lopez seem to misinterpret the responsibilities associated with leading MSA. They should offer plans of action now, not just a vague willingness to listen in the hopes that students will come to them with ideas.
DAAP’s platform includes battles that need to be fought. It also excludes many important ones. This isn’t necessarily a desirable trait in a student government president and vice president. Thus, though a valuable voice on campus, DAAP and its candidates are better political advocates than MSA leaders.
In contrast to the MSA candidates, the LSA-SG candidates are particularly worthy of praise. While it may not be ideal that MAP candidates Zaikis and Monaghan are running unopposed, they are both impressive candidates. Combining experience and a solid platform, the two are more than talented enough to lead this often-overlooked but quietly effective student government. As usual, LSA-SG is proving to be a bigger asset to this university than MSA.
The biggest hurdle facing Zaikis and Monaghan this year is successfully navigating LSA-SG after 50 new members were appointed to the organization last month. Adding these new members after reaching out to people traditionally not included in the group was one of campus’s success stories this semester. The accomplishment will be that much more impressive if Zaikis and Monaghan make sure that LSA-SG avoids the bureaucratic complications that sometimes come with growth.
There is every reason to believe they can. Luckily, Zaikis and Monaghan are working to earn students’ votes despite being unopposed. When the Daily’s editorial board spoke with them, the pair shared the floor when outlining their plans, both displaying a thorough knowledge of their proposals. They clearly share a passion for representing students in a university environment that often overlooks them, and that enthusiasm and commitment is exactly what LSA-SG needs to inspire more student involvement and trust in a compromised system.
Backing them up is an equally impressive platform. The two hope to improve the LSA course guide to include more information about classes, open mini-courses to LSA students outside of the LSA Honors College, work with administrators to determine theme semesters and improve communication between MSA and LSA-SG, among a host of other projects.
These are all things that could dramatically improve students’ lives. Most importantly, these goals will probably be realized.
The Daily’s Editorial Board endorses MAP candidates SABRINA SHINGWANI and ARVIND SOHONI for MSA president and vice president. We also endorse MAP candidates LESLIE ZAIKIS and JOHN MONAGHAN for LSA-SG president and vice president.