story Daniel Silverman, Guest Columnist
In response to “Not a Game of Cards”, an opinion piece in last week’s issue of The Octant.

(Roger Ko)

A student government with the Meritocracy Method would include both elections and meritocratic appointment. (Roger Ko)

The Meritocracy Method (MM), a current proposal for the Student Constitution, has been characterized as instituting a student government based on trials in place of one with a democratic mandate. This may have been the goal of the MM when it was proposed in the past, but the MM is now designed to work alongside elections.  

Before “Not a Game of Cards” was published, I sat with the author to discuss the MM and explained to him some of the significant differences between this year’s MM and last year’s version. However, “Not a Game of Cards” does not reflect a strong understanding of what the Meritocracy Method is actually about. Not only has the MM changed significantly from last year, the author didn’t even get its name correct. While there is a competition component of the MM, no part of the idea has ever been called the “Meritocracy Games.”

The MM proposed for this year does not intend to establish a legislative student government body without elections. The design of the MM hopes to select individuals most skilled and passionate for specific Director positions in the Student Government. The Constitution Review Committee (CRC) is currently suggesting positions on the Student Government, currently referred to as Directors by the CRC, for jobs such as the Secretary and Treasurer. Elections would still determine the positions of President, Vice-President and the legislative representatives, which constitute the majority of student government. Depending on what amendments are proposed to the final constitution, the positions decided by the MM might not necessarily receive voting powers for legislative decisions.

To get a better picture of what the MM represents, think of a government with Directors determined by the MM as similar to a national cabinet with appointed ministers. Few national ministers of defense, education, health, the treasury, foreign affairs, etc. are elected. However, the lack of a democratic mandate for ministerial posts does not make the multitude of liberal democracies that rely on ministerial appointment less democratic. Liberal democracies avoid popular elections for ministerial posts partially to ensure that each minister position is occupied by the qualified and talented person with experience in that role, as opposed to a popular figure with little merit or experience.

Another commonly stated concern about the MM is that it would prevent students primarily interested in serving their fellow students from being a part of the Student Government. Ignoring the fact that the MM is meant to be implemented alongside elections for the President, Vice-President, and legislative positions, what is to say that “passionate and hardworking” students won’t lose out to students lacking “long-term commitment” or with “integrity issues” in an election? Someone with integrity issues and long-term commitment could plausibly be elected to Student Government by riding on popularity. Neither the MM nor conventional elections will eliminate the possibility that questionable candidates will serve student government. I’m happy that there are questions being posed at the MM, but I only ask that any criticisms leveled at the MM, should also be considered for the method of conventional elections.

Some critics of the MM believe that if we adopt the MM, it would remain as a feature of the Yale-NUS Student Government forever. The MM is not Hammurabi’s Code, and it was never intended to be written in stone. Rather, the MM is a chance for us to capitalize the exciting fact that Yale-NUS is open to experimentation and novel ideas. If the MM were to really drive our Student Government into chaos and incompetence, then we would simply stop using it and return to fully relying on elections.

I understand that I have not discussed many features of the MM here, such as how it desires to give students without strong skills in public campaigning or speech-making an opportunity to serve their community through Student Government. In order to better shed light on the MM, I plan to release an updated description for the MM to the student body within one week. Then, I invite the author of Not a Game of Cards and all others with hesitations to read about the process, and engage in a more accurate and productive discussion.

The concerns and charges previously levelled at the MM in “Not a Game of Cards” are misleading because they focus on a version of the MM that dwells in dilapidating delusions. If we are going to properly assess and critique the MM, as we should, I kindly ask that we focus on the one that exists in reality and not in fantasy.  

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