OP-EDS

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October 2, 2007

Relaxation without Representation

It is reasonable for students to assume that the representatives they elect to Student Government (SG) will be the same ones who serve them the following year. Unfortunately, under the current College Council (CC) bylaws, representatives are permitted to study abroad and appoint “proxies” to take their places.

The Council is starting the academic year with 2 of its 12 elected representatives studying abroad. Greg Gabrellas, a third-year council representative, surprised most of his fellow CC representatives earlier this week when he revealed that he is studying in Tanzania this quarter, a decision he had actually made at the end of last year. Fourth-year Eve Ewing will also try to serve her constituents from afar as she conducts B.A. research in Paris.

To fill their places, both representatives have tapped friends as proxies. This means that instead of Gabrellas and Ewing, unelected students will debate and vote in CC meetings. Gabrellas’s proxy was actually absent for the first council meeting this week because Gabrellas waited until the day of the meeting to ask the student to take his place. Gabrellas’s and Ewing’s efforts to remain in touch via e-mail and telephone are not adequate: The Internet is not a substitute for face-to-face conversations on the quads or a general awareness of life on campus.

But the blame should not fall solely on the two representatives. There is recent precedent for their decisions to study abroad while holding SG positions. Fourth-year Hollie Gilman studied in China last fall after she had been elected as student liaison to the Board of Trustees. While the trustees did not have a formal meeting that quarter, Gilman’s absence meant that she was not available as a mediator between students and board members.

The prime culprit is the CC bylaws, which don’t require representatives to remain in Hyde Park while they serve in their elected positions. Candidates are not even required to divulge plans to study abroad while campaigning. Last spring, CC considered amending the bylaws to prevent elected representatives from studying abroad, but the proposal was never adopted. The Maroon urges the Council to write a bylaw mandating that elected representatives stay on campus for the duration of their terms.

In the meantime, U of C students won’t be able to take SG seriously until its own members do.