Student Government disappoints as usual

By Barney Keller

“Or don’t vote for me…who cares? Don’t vote at all!”

So says high school student government presidential candidate Tammy Metzler in the cult classic Election.

Here at the U of C, life imitates art. At the annual Student Government (SG) debate in McCormick Lounge last Sunday, Adam Brunk, a member of the Moose Party slate, which channels Tammy each year, said, “Student government is a sham.”

Unfortunately, both he and Tammy have a point. In the past year, our SG’s accomplishments have been something less than spectacular.

The Penny Party, started by Your-SG slate presidential candidate Scott Duncombe was said to be a way to “start a debate about ideas.” But what ideas? Several close observers of student government say the Penny Party added support for divestment from Darfur to their platform “just to get elected.” In fact, Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) co-chair Mike Pareles sent an e-mail February 15 to third-year College Council (CC) members reminding them of the grassroots support STAND gave the Penny Party in this fall’s CC elections, in case any of the party’s members decided to run on an executive slate. “I’m sure you are aware of the mobilization we put out for the Penny Party earlier in the fall, partially leading to their sweeping success on a divestment platform…” wrote Pareles. “STAND and the Social Justice Coalition will provide the same mobilization for the slate whose members have proven a commitment to divestment in the past.” When CC stalled on approving a resolution on divestment, they were called out for doing so by STAND member and third-year representative Ryan Kaminski in an e-mail to the Council.

When SG “activists” aren’t wasting time trying to curb dissent, they’re squandering energy on settling old scores. According to the SG Elections and Rules Committee e-mails forwarded to my inbox, Graduate Council chair Alex Bratsafolis filed a complaint April 5 accusing graduate liaison candidate and current SG president Ian Mulhauser of early campaigning. Mulhauser says he was merely handing out an information sheet indicating when the election was going to be held and information on the position he was running for when he encountered Phil Caruso, whom Mulhauser defeated for SG president last year. Caruso informed him that this was early campaigning, and a few days later, Bratsafolis, who was on Caruso’s slate last year, made the complaint to the Elections and Rules Committee. There’s no concrete proof that Caruso asked her to make the complaint. However, one member of the Election and Rules Committee who wished to remain anonymous said this impropriety was so obvious that Sharlene Holly, advisor to SG, quickly sent out an e-mail reminding the Election and Rules Committee that complaints are supposed to be anonymous—probably implying that the committee should not consider Bratsafolis’s credibility, or lack thereof.

If you remember from last year, Mulhauser made a similar complaint of early campaigning against Caruso last year, which was dismissed by former SG president Robert Hubbard, who ran with Caruso two years ago. Sound like revenge? You make the call. Mulhauser sent a blistering e-mail April 10 to the Elections and Rules Committee in which he wrote, “I am ashamed that [Caruso] didn’t have the nerve to bring this up. He knew very well about this because he was the one who received the complaint that was dismissed. He should know better. He also was allowed the decency of a hearing, and obviously a very solid defense. I would like this matter reviewed and dismissed.” How any of this benefits students is hard to see.

They say that the personal is political. Here at the U of C, it’s sometimes impossible to tell the difference.

For instance, if any two CC members can be said to be of like mind about the weakness of student government, it’s Kaminski and third-year representative Kyle Lee. You may recall that Kaminski accused Lee of being insensitive to his sexual orientation earlier this year. The charge provoked a nasty confrontation. Yet in an op-ed in the Maroon (“College Council Needs Reform,” 2/13/07), Kaminski wrote that “[CC] meetings have quite embarrassingly included literally hours of bickering over hyper-technical parliamentary procedure, near-constant party-line voting, and even discussions by some members on how to ‘spin’ campus reforms as products of Student Government and College Council.” Lee told me after the debate that this year, “Student Government didn’t do anything. At all. We’re lucky if we get half of the actual representatives to show up to meetings. Some send proxies, and some just don’t show at all. People just don’t care about Student Government, even the people on Student Government.”

No wonder no one cares. There’s in-fighting and bickering, and that’s on a good day. People seem to just plain hate each other. On Wednesday current president Ian Mulhauser called the complaint against him “petty.” That may be a good word to describe SG, but I have a better one. During the debate, Moose Party slate candidate Oliver Mosier said, “Sex isn’t profane. Sex is beautiful and should be protected. Do you know what’s profane? Student Government.”

Profane. Unfortunately for students, that sounds about right.