In one of the more hotly contested votes in recent years, this week’s Student Government (SG) election yielded high turnout and conflicting results. On the one hand, One Campus—an experienced alliance of students who have shown a willingness to work within the confines of SG—won in a landslide. On the other hand, College Council (CC) elections netted 5 of 12 seats for SGProgress, a coalition of starry-eyed student activists dedicated to radically reforming the University. Vocal divestment proponent and third-year Aliza Levine, endorsed by SGProgress, was elected undergraduate liaison to the Board of Trustees. Both Levine and SGProgress would do well to learn from One Campus and adopt a realistic, appropriate agenda for SG.
SGProgress’s platform offers hints as to what the caucus may attempt to do with its newfound power. Inspired by what they see as widespread disenchantment with SG, they ran on a promise to “transform [SG] into an organization that reflects the critical engagement of students with our university.” Specifically, they called for more transparency from the administration, increased financial aid, a cap on tuition increases, and greater respect for diversity on campus. In keeping with their goals as student activists, they are determined to make the University a “positive force in society.” SGProgress is not alone in its populism. One Campus seems to think that students will eagerly line up with ideas and grievances when it institutes its much-advertised office hours, and Levine joined SGProgress in promising a new era of transparency, change, and student involvement.
Such goals are well-intentioned but ultimately misguided. The purpose of SG should be twofold: reforming the byzantine RSO funding process (an area where One Campus has shown a regrettable lack of initiative) and addressing obvious student grievances. The administration has proven its willingness to work with SG within this limited scope, as seen by the successful campaign to re-open the A-Level and the creation of the UnCommon Fund. The administration is likely to ignore excessively ambitious SG initiatives, however, and attempts to affect the University’s long-range policies will only produce a group of self-important student politicians focused on grandstanding and consumed by infighting—in other words, the type of student government SGProgress and Levine campaigned so fervently against.
Hope for dramatic change by SGProgress and other student politicians is understandable. It’s tempting to think that student apathy is a result of previous SG ineffectiveness and that if only a truly representative and dedicated caucus gained power, students would come together and remake the University in their own image.
In reality, however, even those who voted in the election don’t care about SG enough to attend its meetings or office hours, serve on its committees, or even read its blog, and that’s unlikely to change. All those elected would do well to follow the example of the outgoing slate, dedicating themselves to working quietly in the background to achieve the modest but important changes necessary to improve student life.
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