Friday, April 11, 2008

Advocacy or Services?

Nathan Bruschi '10 penned a rare kind of Op-Ed in today's Daily D, i.e. a good one.

Services or activism? Which of these things would you like to get out of your student government? In his most recent column (“Relegitimizing Student Assembly,” Apr. 7), Evan Meyerson ‘08 argued for the latter, stating, “The [SA] president must take positions on every important issue currently affecting Dartmouth students, understand the multifaceted social and political climate a student leader must navigate and become the ultimate student advocate.” This answer is indeed a popular one on campus. When asked during the last Elections Planning and Advisory Committee debate, a majority of the candidates agreed with it. Even a cursory look at SA’s structure and history, however, would reveal that of the few things the Assembly does well, student services ­— not activism — is paramount.

Chief among the fallacies surrounding an advocacy-based vision for SA’s future is the idea that it is a representative body. While school-wide and class-wide elections clearly give Student Assembly and its two lovely new leaders legitimacy, the organization’s bylaws grant voting membership to anybody who happens to wander into three consecutive meetings of the General Assembly. While I am not trying to question SA’s ability to act in the interests of the student body, the reality suggests that the opinions felt among those filling the seats do not necessarily correspond to their peers who they nominally represent.

He goes on to point out that Dartmouth students are perfectly able to advocate for themselves. The SA needs to stop deluding itself with delusions of grandeur and focus on the small things that they are capable or. Expanding GreenPrint locations, putting medicine vending machines on campus (not just at Dick's House), and bringing Sunday newspapers to campus—these were all good (and attainable) proposals I heard from this year's batch of candidates. Unless the SA undergoes substantive structural changes, it should leave advocacy to others, e.g. for more local sororities to the CFS.


SA rules said...

It is a good op-ed, but the SA has been generally worthless since its founding. As long as I can remember, the SA has been a way to lure all of the all of the self-aggrandizing resume padders into one place by offering them lines on their resume, money to play with, and one more excuse to annoy their peers. For a few weeks every year, the candidates play "politics" the way 4-year-olds play "house." They appoint "campaign managers," have "debates" (attended by no one but their close friends and the people at the D playing "journalist"), write op-eds in the D that no one cares about, accuse each other of breaking the rules....

and then a few people win and get to play "president" while the losers either get a life or play "Al Gore," where they either complain about the process of the election, complain about the new leaders' "policies," or join SA as a second-class assembly member of sorts.

Usually this is harmless, but every so often the SA decides to "advocate" for students. This is usually bad, because they put themselves in a position of potentially making controversial decisions that affect the rest of the students. No one votes in SA elections, and few students consider the SA their "leaders" in any meaningful sense. It's more along the lines of "let those clowns play with each other and keep them away from me." I recall the Hildreth "surprise" blitz terminal debacle and the SA wall-punching incident.

Unfortunately, every so often the SA will do something stupid in the name of advocacy, and the administration will force the rest of the students to swallow it.

Hope springs eternal, however. Maybe someone will read Bruschi's op-ed and take it to heart, instead of "tak[ing] positions on every important issue currently affecting Dartmouth students." I doubt it.

johnleemk said...

Bruschi's op-ed is probably one of the best to appear in the D for a long time. Services are the main reason I voted for Cooper - he was the only one who acknowledged they are the primary purpose of the SA. A friend supporting Bode argued that Cooper wouldn't be able to push through his agenda - but I didn't and don't care so much about what issues he wants to advocate so much as I do about the services he wanted to bring to campus. Free laundry detergent, yo.

AG said...