The recent Student Government (SG) elections, which attracted less attention than past years, prompted discussion as to what role SG should fill and what responsibilities ultimately fall within its purview. In a recent staff editorial, the Maroon stated that "it is still unclear exactly where SG's responsibilities begin and end, and without this knowledge it is impossible to know exactly where to apply pressure and attempt to catalyze change." The Maroon, in seeking student opinion, held a roundtable discussion Tuesday, May 10, to clarify some perceptions of SG. First-years Stephanie Bell and Lee Solomon, second-years Kalpana Sundaram and Harold Liss, third-year Timothy Fletcher, and fourth-years Abra Pollock and Ben Hellwege all gathered in the Maroon office to voice their opinions to the editorial staff.
Which slate did you vote for, and why?
Solomon: I received input from some older guys who told me to vote for Doomsday. I had also heard bad things about Better Slate Than Never. A poster-boy diversity slate doesn't necessarily impress me. I am more interested in people's accomplishments.
Liss: Doomsday. I knew about the Doomsday candidateswho were from my old houseand I didn't know anyone else running. I also heard horrible things about Better Slate Than Never from people who had had to deal with members of the slate.
Hellwege: I didn't vote because I thought the whole thing was a circus.
Sundaram: Sorry, who was Doomsday again? The SG election is a complete popularity contest. I just voted for my friend Lola [Thompson, of Better Slate Than Never], who is a responsible, serious person.
Pollock: I voted for Better Slate Than Never, because when [Robert] Hubbard was running last year, he made an effort to have a diverse slate. This year, I thought having Lolaas president of Vegan Societyon the slate was like seeing a Native-American woman run for president. I approve of them for choosing diversity.
Bell: I also voted for Better Slate Than Never. Phil Caruso has been responsive in my contact with the UC Dems. Robert Hubbard is in one of my classes, and always has intelligent things to say.
Fletcher: I voted for Better Slate Than Never. I have a friend who is on the healthcare committee and works with Hubbard, who said [Hubbard] knows the ins and outs of SG. As someone who considered setting up a slate with friends, I put a lot of stock in this. At the same time, I wasn't sure that Doomsday was that serious of a slate. It seemed like a standard counter-slate. People that know student government are most likely to get things done. Nevertheless, any hope for a competitive election was just a pipe dream.
What has last year's slate done for student body?
Liss: I have no idea. I heard about a Red Line shuttle, but I never even saw it.
Solomon: When I got here, I also heard a lot about the shuttle, which I never saw. The other thing I heard about was turning the first floor of Reg into all-night study space, but obviously that has not continued.
Hellwege: I am still not entirely clear on what SG has done, and it is still not clear to me whether Robert Hubbard draws a salary.
Pollock: Outside of the executive slate, the finance committee funds a lot of events, as anyone involved in an RSO knows.
Sundaram: A group who distributes funding for RSOs seems pretty replaceable. Funding clubs? Anyone could do it.
Bell: I have a somewhat skewed perspective, since the stuff SG screws up tends to be more newsworthy. But I don't know enough. I did look at the SG website while voting. I think I would check it periodically.
Solomon: Some links on the website don't even work.
Fletcher: SG would have to do something that mattered to make me want to check the website.
What do you think is the role of SG on campus? Are you satisfied with its performance, or do you think it does not accomplish enough?
Pollock: I think it is important to ask how much we really want SG to be a presence in our daily lives. Does anyone really care? I haven't felt much of an SG presence in my four years here, and I've been fine.
Fletcher: SG is there so students can voice their concerns. I would like to see SG have some sort of influence, and whether that's the fault of the slate for not being ambitious enough, or its limited capacity, I'm not sure.
What kind of things should SG do?
Pollock: SG's responsibility is to get the opinions of students. It should organize town hall-like forums.
Fletcher: I've heard that Cornell College in Iowa has a completely autonomous student government that formulates speech and harassment policies, and is taken very seriously by its administration. I think SG here could also articulate drinking policies or speech policies.
How did you feel about different slates' platforms during the campaign?
Hellwege: Perhaps it just reflects the entire uselessness of SG that a slate proposes something as trivial as revamping coffee shops.
Bell: I'm not sure how effectual SG can be about safety concerns. It should serve as some sort of sounding board, or conduit through which student concerns about safety can go to boards much more prepared to deal with safety.
Liss: I don't necessarily see how bus service would affect crimes that occur in daytime and early evening hours.
Solomon: I've never ridden on the Drunk Van, but from what I understand, the biggest safety hazard is the driver, who uses a cell phone to figure out where to go next with a bunch of drunk people in the back.
Pollock: The 40-something beatings of lone males by other Hyde Park adolescents screams "community issue." I am not familiar with an initiative to improve community issues, but if somehow we as University students could develop constructive relationships with Hyde Parkers, maybe they wouldn't want to rob us.
How do you feel about this election as compared to those in years past?
Liss: I went to the debate this year, and there is no way I would have wanted to answer questions on stage. There were maybe 50 people in audience, 20 to 30 from Delta Upsilon, and Doomsday could not speak for more than 10 seconds without someone hurling an insult at them. I don't blame anyone else for not running.
Fletcher: Votes for the Moose Party are protest votes.
Pollock: I don't know why there were only two serious parties; the debate was better attended when more slates ran. I attended the debate two years ago, and thought it was a disgrace.
What do you view as the purpose of SG, and what do you want from it?
Solomon: I don't think SG's role is irreplaceable. I don't see why the student body alone couldn't accomplish these things. In general, I'm pretty happy with my life on campus. I can't think of a more expanded role that SG should be playing.
Hellwege: I don't know how seriously we are to take SG. Nobody takes it seriously.
Pollock: It is not just SG that is representing the student body; it is not our sole connection with the administration.
Bell: I agree. Whenever students have a massive concern with University policy, specific groups appeal to the administration. I think that for the University's harassment policy, the Feminist Majority went directly to the administration, not through a slate.
Solomon: It doesn't seem that SG speaks out directly. It did nothing to condemn the swastikas [on Chicago Friends of Israel Posters] last week, it just sits there silent. What is the diversity platform really about? I know what the Maroon thinks about minority student interests on campus, but I don't know what Robert Hubbard thinks about that.
Any last words?
Fletcher: Let's have a recall.