Throughout my three and a half years at GW, I have read too many Hatchet articles about widely unpopular administration actions. Just recently I read about the tremendous anger stemming from the Community Living and Learning Center’s decision to change its fee waiver policy so students requiring financial aid pay the $300 housing deposit up front. Last year, I was incensed when the University almost reneged on its pledge that “you will graduate in the backyard of the White House.”
Every time I read about these clearly out-of-touch and ill-informed administration moves, I am always left wondering why there is no concerted student opposition. It seems the University acts in a vacuum without any outside input. In theory, our elected student leaders in the Student Association, backed by the lobbying clout of a 20,000-strong electorate, should be constantly and effectively lobbying the administration and having a powerful impact on the University’s policy-making process.
However, reality paints a picture of regular – and thus pointless – SA consultations with the University that have no direct bearing on policy. These pointless and mundane meetings make a great match for the pathetic, constant and immature protests from the SA about “out-of-touch” administration decisions. An activist SA would exert enough pressure on the University and prevent such “out-of-touch” policies.
We all are aware that the SA does not have a veto over University decisions, but it does have the power to mobilize the students that attend this fine institution. This University cannot operate without the intelligent students who occupy the classrooms and pay the bills.
Nevertheless, students at GW have no input into the dictatorial administrative decisions that directly and qualitatively impact their educational experience because their theoretical representatives in the SA are not doing a competent job of fighting for our interests.
Prototypical of this complete mockery we call our student government is the recent SA protest over the smallest tuition hike in more than a decade. While the protest may have been well-intentioned, it did not force the administration to rethink the hike and certainly will not have any impact on future University decisions.
The fact is, in the future, the University will continue to raise tuition as it pleases and will continue to waive fee exceptions simply because it can; students have no check on the University’s behavior. The very idea of a student protest led by our student leaders just shows how out-of-the loop they really are – instead of having effective input in the decision-making process, the SA is merely reacting to concrete policy decisions the University has no intention of reversing. While the SA blames University officials for being out of touch with students, the SA itself is out of touch with the bureaucracy it is supposed to lobby.
Moreover, the competence of the SA comes into question when our student government protests the lowest tuition increase in 11 years. Effective lobbying entails the use of sophisticated political communication and leverage. Protesting is a means of last resort, not the standard operating procedure. If you are going to protest and rally the campus, it must be done over serious issues, not relatively minor increases in tuition. Protests were warranted against the 6.9 percent tuition increase and they would have been appropriate had the University moved Commencement to the MCI Center. If protests are called for, they should be organized to bring in more than a tiny handful of the 20,000 students that attend GW.
The SA constitution did not just envision a president and senate that would exist merely for themselves, play political games on the fourth floor of the Marvin Center and become career SA politicians.
No, these positions were designed to be intermediaries between students and the administration. I am pleased to know the SA shares my outrage over ever-increasing tuition costs. I would be even more pleased if the SA could actually do something about it instead of throwing a hissy fit.
Real leaders do not just lead for the sake of leading; real leaders are always fighting hard for their constituents, they negotiate, they make a difference. Just imagine how ineffective our federal government would be if the Democrats in the House of Representatives staged a walkout every time disagreeable Republican legislation came to the floor. National policy would start to resemble the one-sided dictates that make up GW’s policy.
We as GW students have the power and the invaluable opportunity to change this seemingly hopeless situation in the upcoming SA elections. I challenge and implore every GW student to take the time to vote for the candidates who pledge to turn this dictatorship around. Vote for the candidates that pledge effective action, not just the traditional slogan of “change.”
In order for students to have any real bearing over future policies, the next SA needs to carry out regular, large-scale student surveys on policy issues. It also must develop a new aggressive, agenda-driven approach as opposed to the present SA meetings.
When you go to the polls next month, keep in mind that it’s not just your SA, but it’s also your GW.
-The writer is a senior majoring in international economics.