There has been an extraordinary level of focus on the activities of the Joint Elections Committee this year, which there rightly ought to be. However, do not let one broken institution draw your attention away from the others.
This year’s student government elections are indicative of the problems that have plagued our so-called campus leadership for several years now. With candidates squabbling like children over arbitrary and capricious rules in an election that lacks substance, students find themselves alienated and detached from the people who are supposedly their representatives.
The entire system has failed in its duties to the students and, unfortunately, the entire system will most likely continue its failures in the coming year because, except for the faces, few things ever change on the fourth floor of the Marvin Center.
The JEC performed abysmally this year. It fulfilled neither its purpose – “to provide for fair, unbiased and efficient campus-wide elections” – nor its responsibilities. It acted inappropriately on several occasions, but did so, surprisingly enough, according to the rules.
While it removed a candidate from the ballot – a move many labeled as biased – it did so according to its charter. Was this rule appropriate? Absolutely not. But was it the rule? Yes, and one cannot blame the JEC for upholding its own rules. Should the JEC have exercised more flexibility in its rulings? Perhaps, but that was left for the student court to decide.
The JEC now finds itself invalidating its preliminary election results because of a miscount. Miscounts do occur, especially when dealing with write-in votes and absentee ballots as was witnessed in the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission elections this past November.
However, whereas in the ANC elections only a few votes were miscounted or found, in the GW elections, dozens have materialized. Speculations are bound to develop regarding the validity of such a recount, but are reinforced when one-third of the JEC resigns the same day as the new and accurate elections results are announced.
To be fair to the JEC, one must look at the people with whom it is dealing – the candidates. They are out seeking power at any and all cost. They try to convince you that they are the most qualified leader despite dismal track records, poor leadership skills and no vision. They whine at every decision the JEC hands down, defend themselves in student court with ludicrous lines of defense and name calling, tear down each others posters at night and threaten one another with personal destruction.
These are the people the JEC must deal with on a daily basis. One can begin to understand why candidates are reprimanded over minor infractions and why committee members resign.
But what is happening inside the JEC? Why are such monumental mistakes occurring? Who is responsible? What can be done?
Well, according to the JEC charter, the responsibility falls on . guess who? The SA, the Marvin Center Governing Board and the Program Board. The same organizations that orchestrated some of the most memorable events of 1998-’99, including the rally against the lowest tuition increase in more than a decade and the concert that netted a loss of 50,000 student tuition dollars.
The MCGB, PB and SA charter the JEC and review and appoint its members. They each accept nominations and issue the appointments to the committee. It is interesting then, to listen to members of these chartering organizations criticize the very people whom they have appointed.
Moreover, it is interesting to note that these political organizations appoint their own election oversight committee – perhaps we are getting to the root of the problem. How can such a committee, appointed by political organizations, be neutral and non-partisan? Is the JEC the problem, or the system in which it was created?
Beyond the issue of the JEC, however, the problem still exists on this campus of a lack of leadership and, even worse, a lack of vision within our student government. Perhaps this is not a problem, but rather a consequence of the system.
Leadership exists at GW. I can see it every day when I go to class and when I participate in student group activities. But do I ever see it in the SA? Or see it reflected in PB programming? The core of student leaders at this University operate within the framework of student groups. They each add their small piece to the larger part of the pie that makes up our campus. It can be seen across the spectrum of groups, from multicultural groups, to academic groups, to social groups, to recreational to athletic groups and to our campus media. This is where the real student talent lies, and this is where it will continue to lie as long the SA continues to play government rather than act like real leaders, exercise real vision and maturity and accomplish something that matters.
I became involved with SA politics this past year as a consequence of my duties in a student organization. I have dealt with nearly every level of the group and all I have seen the SA accomplish this year is more confusion and chaos.
The SA is alienated from the students because it chooses to be. The SA is ineffective because students do not fix it. They do not fix it because the SA will not allow them to smash the imaginary bubble of student governance in which they have been hiding from reality in. Sadly enough, the students are right-minded to stay away from the SA because it offers few benefits and innumerable headaches.
There appears to be an opportunity for change however. A constitutional commission is being formed by the Senate for the purposes of examining possible improvements to the SA constitution.
Will the new commission, comprised mostly of SA insiders but open to the public, have the inventiveness, drive and ingenuity to make the needed serious and meaningful reforms? Or will it simply be another papering over of the fundamental cracks and rifts within the SA?
According to the SA Rules Committee, nothing too radical will come out the commission. That is too bad because the commission could actually make a difference and begin the long overdue process of laying to rest an antiquated and dysfunctional system and begin the creation of a new SA that works.
In the end, however, the more I see of the SA, the more I think back to a conversation I had with a former student group leader about the organization. When asked why he never ran for SA president, he said, “Because I would eliminate the SA and give all the money to the student groups.”
Given what I have seen this year, I agree with him.
-The writer is president of the International Affairs Society.
This article appeared in the March 11, 1999 issue of the Hatchet.