Guest columnists || David Chappell, Tee Zhuo
Photo from New Line Cinema
We are not arguing for or against a student government – we are actually in favour of effective governance, since it could provide a strong body to represent student opinion to the administration on a wide range of important and urgent issues. But there are problems with making the assumption that electing any form of student government will address these issues more effectively and efficiently.
The idea of a “student government” and the processes for its establishment were brought about by the Dean of Students’ Office (DoS) last year, with no coherent case for why we need a student government or what form one could take before the process got underway. Freshmen were not represented in the Elected Students’ Committee (ESC) during the rushed drafting of a constitution which saw minimal attendance and participation. The result of this has been an uninformed, disengaged and apathetic student body – problems we have raised with the DoS and ESC.
Given the problematic process it is important to consider carefully the value and ramifications of your upcoming vote. Contrary to the information provided in the ESC Crash Course posters, there are two – not three – options: a ‘yes’ vote and a ‘no’ vote. A ‘yes’ vote by two-thirds of the student body entails passing this particular constitution in its current form, complete with a poorly-defined “Sunset Clause”. A ‘no’ vote entails the disbanding of the ESC and the opening up of the process to the student body.
The sentiment exists that any student government is better than none, given the aforementioned problems. This has been reinforced by calls to urgency from both the ESC and the DoS, and to some degree this is reflective of the student body – in particular the sophomores. Their frustration, having gone through a long year of often inflammatory discussions on the constitution and government that ultimately proved fruitless, is completely understandable.
But let us step back and consider whether such a government, elected through such a process, is the best solution to the urgent problems. The lack of participation and representation in the process of drafting the constitution have created conditions – limiting possible options, introducing unchecked systemic biases – that are detrimental to the establishment of an effective and representative government. The government itself could become an additional problem, instead of the solution it should be!
We feel that knowing whether the student body actually wants a student government, and agreeing on what that entails, are questions that need to be answered representatively before we can even start to think about a process.
Assumptions also exist around the promised “Sunset Clause”. The poster states that the Clause means you agree with the constitution but only temporarily, after which “we” can “review and evaluate…and decide if we want to make changes”. The timescale and mechanism for this have been left undefined. It is important to question who will be in charge of the alteration process, how effective and representative it will be, and whether it is open to abuse – as well as a host of other factors left unexplored. Given an ill-defined process likely subject to governmental influence and the effect of inertia, it is unwise to assume that the Clause will effectively lead to substantial improvements to the constitution. The ESC has stated it expects the constitution to stand relatively unchanged.
The potential for harms to arise within the Clause’s temporary period is cause enough for worry within a fledgling college. Decisions will have permanent ramifications on our culture, structure, and the autonomy and self-sufficiency of student body in solving problems. The image and prestige of the college depends disproportionately on its pioneering community. Therefore we have to bear these responsibilities and be particularly conscious of our decisions.
Dean of Students Kyle Farley has stated that his office will share a “contingency plan” for a “form of student representation & governance” which may include selected students and College committees should a ‘no’ vote be passed. However we should not accept that this is the sole solution. Following a “no” vote students can mobilise to directly address the problems.
The DoS’s heavy involvement has created a crutch mentality that promotes apathy towards issues within the student body. A “yes” vote creates potential for the problem to be exacerbated, adding an unmerited layer of bureaucracy, and encourage a reliance on representatives to solve our problems. Under a “no” vote this crutch would disappear creating the opportunity for student-initiated solutions.
Already proposed have been the ideas of a student council, purpose-driven committees, stop-gap measures during the creation of alternate constitutions and many more, all of which are viable alternatives. Personally, following a “no” vote, we will begin work on the creation of an online petition portal – a crowdsourcing system for the community to raise problems, create and revise petitions, and lend their support to various ideas, among other things. The administration will be given access to this portal.
We feel consideration of the points raised in this article are essential for casting an informed vote. We will be voting ‘no’, but you should arrive at your own, informed, decision.