April 17, 2007

Do you know when SG elections are? If not, then maybe you should.

Another Sunday enjoying Pierce brunch. Another chance for a truly controlled sociological experiment. “Excuse me, do you know that there is a student government election starting a week from Tuesday?” Blank stares. Confusion. We kindly offer an explanation to our intrusive inquiry: There is in fact a student government election commencing on April 24th. It is to elect the slate (president and vice presidents of Student Affairs and Administration) and both undergraduate and graduate liaisons to the Board of Trustees. We comment that it is the most important time to get involved with student politics between the new president and changes to our University, and it is the time for a true dialogue about the role of the U of C in the local community and the world at large. We sigh and return to French toast, though not ’til after one final question: “Have any of your friends discussed the election? Do you think you are emblematic of the rest of your friends?” “Absolutely no one has talked about them. We had no idea,” they reply.

Even during this brief encounter, we saw the spark in their faces. Suddenly, the horizon was blue again. What if we lived in a campus (or a world) where Student Government (SG) was the constant talk at the brunch table? What if issues of student engagement and increased communication among students, faculty, and administrators were as commonplace as Locke and Friedman? The only reason they are not is because there is limited awareness among students about SG’s role, working, goings-on, and the possibilities for reform.

This is, in fact, the ideal time for students to get involved. Whatever your individual feeling about the divestment campaign, it has been a watershed moment in student power. Historically, our school has been unwilling to engage in a dialogue about the University’s place in the greater world. Now, students have been given $200,000 to start a process of research about that very topic. President Zimmer is willing to discuss issues of paramount importance to the University: financial aid, diversity, student engagement, and sustainability, just to name a few. The closing of the A-level is a microcosm of the disconnect between students and administrators. Had students been consulted on this issue, the administration would have known instantly that people feel an emotional, physical, and psychological connection to the A-level. The subsequent steps to try to re-open the A-level ASAP and find ways to make Crerar a more viable alternative show a desperate desire for administrators to work with students.

There is a lot that needs to be done. There are also a lot of people who are excited by the possibilities for reform and have innovative ideas for change. These ideas do not matter if we have an election that is about whom you know and what you know. We go to a school that prides itself on nuanced analysis of primary sources. We deserve the same from our SG elections. Everyone benefits if we have an open and honest dialogue about issues. Yet the elections are a week from Tuesday, and there has been little to no discussion about them anywhere. If Mill is right and we ought to let the best ideas rise to the top, then let’s give the entire student body an opportunity to vote those ideas into place. May the best ones win.