Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Keep It

On the proposal of a shadowy, blitz-happy Publius.

This proposal is cute but impractical. My understanding of the assembly-- vague, admittedly-- is that it serves basically as a group of students with which the administration can interact, to 'represent' us as governments do. Now, suppose that we replace representative democracy with pure democracy. With whom will Wright, Larimore and company negotiate? (Surely not all decisions can be made in a public forum.) It won't be with all the students or even the most enthusiastic ones-- probably the ones they like the most or the ones that are most willing to suck up to them. Our de facto government will be just as sycophantic if not more. Our current system gives us choice, whereas that system would place the choice in the hands of higher ups. Apple-polishing and demagoguery will proliferate.

Next, crowds are dynamic, enthusiastic, and demanding but not particularly responsible. As easy as it is to laugh at the politicking that goes on at the SA, sitting in on meetings with uncooperative, dull, scary, ugly, stubborn administrators is time-consuming. It's far easier to just make a five minute statement at a town-hall meeting. Commitment to 'public service' keeps these people involved. The marginal amount of civic virtue that is found among our current SA representatives would be effaced by this proposal.

Finally, meetings are a fine way to administer a government if the citizens are sovereign. In a town, they are, more or less, so long as their decisions do not conflict with federal and state requirements. We are not-- the administrators have final say, with the exception of law. A town-hall meeting for a town makes sense because it places the deliberations-- which are significant and meaningful-- into the open. Student government has fiat about little. It can advise, condemn and beg but it basically has no leverage against Dartmouth's true government, except maybe causing a PR stir if it's brave enough. So, having this group, as ineffectual as it can seem, may actually be better than this proposed alternative.

If I have mischaracterized the Student Assembly, correct me-- with much flattery to mitigate the pain of your criticisms, please.

(I also noticed that someone-- the author of the proposal?-- has added a mention of his or her statement in the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on 'Town Meeting' today. So congratulations on making yourself Encyclopaedic-- it will go well with your web site.)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your two cents are appreciated and correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems like it would have been more appropriate as a comment to the last post...

TO said...

Nick, with all due respect for your usual brilliance, which shines as a beacon of hope amid a dialogue otherwise covered by the shadows of confusion...

... I think you overestimate the "civic virtue" in the Student Assembly when you call it marginal. My experience is that the SA has never "represented" the students, especially in disagreements with the administration. If I remember correctly, the reason for all of the locks on the dorms now is precisely because the SA failed its "constituents" when it had an opportunity to "represent them."

One of the greatest harms that the student assembly does to the students is to put on the appearance of "representing" them. When there is genuine controversy between the administration and the student body, the members of the SA are the type of sycophantic scum who are driven by nothing other than personal ambition and would be the first to sell out their "constituents" to ingratiate themselves personally to the administrators. In other words, when the students most need someone to stand up for them, the SA is composed of the people least likely to do so and most likely to sell them out.

I think that the town meeting idea is retarded though. If the administration wants the opinion of students, it can ask for it and those who answer will be the ones actually interested in the issue instead of those who merely want to sip coffee with the trustees and pad their resumes.

Town meeting is a euphemism for "emotional shouting match" and there's probably no better way to persuade the administration that we can't think for ourselves than to adopt this as a format for making our decisions.

While I realize that my words pale in comparison to yours in both style and substance, I hope that they might still influence your thought.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me for questioning your intellectual prowess, which I cower before, but it would seem that your understanding of the Assembly sucks.

Anonymous said...

Took care of that little (and silly) problem... For the time-being.

Anonymous said...

"(I also noticed that someone-- the author of the proposal?-- has added a mention of his or her statement in the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on 'Town Meeting' today. So congratulations on making yourself Encyclopaedic-- it will go well with your web site.)"

Oooooh, rumors!!!!!!!!! Let's speculate!

Nick Desai said...

"your understanding of the Assembly sucks."

... Go on.

Anonymous said...

To respond to Nick,
First , let me say I havent been to Dartlog in a while , and its nice to see it so lively (it was awfully dull for about a year). The current SA system is set up so that any student who attends 3 meetings in a term (3 hours per quarter) can vote. That is very little to ask, especially compared to other schools. The reason the town hall system doesnt work is because a mass of say, frisbee players, could swamp a meeting an allocate all the money to the frisbee team. the 3 meetings, which is reduced from the 5 when i was a freshman, allows for anyone to join, but not groups to swarm in, claiming to 'represent'student opinion. You may argue that it doesnt represent student opinion now, but it represents better than it used to , better than other schools, and its a group that at least used to poll quite a bit when i was president . if people cant respond to 2 question blitz polls, theyve reneged their chance to dictate student opinions. just my 2 cents on SA as a concept.
-janos

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that, if students saw that there was an article on the warrant that would give the ultimate frisbee team all student funding, they would simply let it happen?

Look, it's really not that difficult. We have hundreds of case studies over hundreds of years to work with: the very towns of New England. The reason why people don't pass laws saying that they don't have to pay taxes or that the town should give them $500,000 for nothing, is because, once the article is on the warrant, everybody can see it, everybody can discuss it, and all while the meeting is weeks away.

Anonymous said...

The reason to get rid of SA is not that a townhall system would work; it's because the SA doesn't do anything good and gives a bunch of otherwise unsuccessful people a powerful resume-filling line. There's no reason why the student body should endorse such lame candidates.