Will Dempster: 2006 should be the Student Association’s 1776

With another year comes another scandal. Nearly six months into a new Student Association term thus far bereft of any meaningful accomplishments in improving student life at GW, President Audai Shakour is now embroiled in an investigation over alleged sexual misconduct. Predictably, the SA Senate has risen to not only question Shakour’s ability to lead while under investigation, but also raised a bevy of internal nonsense on which many senators argue he should be impeached.

While allegations of sexual impropriety are very serious, the other impeachment charges are not. Forgive me, but as a student I do not care if a seat on the Student Court has been vacant for six months, or if Shakour’s vice presidents were not present at his cabinet meetings. I want my student government to improve my quality of life, not devolve into a glorified debate society. This incident, when examined in the context of SA history, proves that merely amending and re-drafting its constitution or bylaws cannot improve the SA. Rather, the entire system of student government must be reconstituted into one capable of coping with, addressing and mitigating student concerns.

The recent history of the SA is rife with ridiculous infighting that slows or halts the business of students. In 1999, the Senate impeached President Phil Meisner on eight counts, eventually removing him from office on a 28-2 vote over what The Hatchet cited as two advisers “assert(ing) unconstitutional control over SA affairs.” In 2002, President Phil Robinson narrowly escaped impeachment at the hands of a vindictive Senate headed by senators who were later found to have used student money to purchase alcohol for a party. The innovative and bold work of last year’s SA President Omar Woodard – by far the body’s best in recent memory – was repeatedly stymied by the Senate’s efforts to discredit him.

From this history, it is clear that although those who participate in the SA change from year to year, the situations in which the body finds itself stay the same. To end this vicious cycle, student representation at GW must undergo revolutionary change. Accordingly, the institutions of student representation should be cleaved into three separate entities, each with varying responsibilities.

First, discretion over financial allocations must be transferred to an independently elected review board. This body, whose members should be prohibited from holding a post in the SA, would follow a similar procedure now used by the SA Senate Finance Committee to disperse funds to student groups. Like every other student group, the SA itself would be required to submit a detailed budget to this committee. Using its own allocation, the SA could still pursue projects, provide co-sponsorships and fund its operation. The independence and accountability of this new structure would justify an increase of the activities fee to better fund student organizations. The group would also review semester-end reports on how groups used the funds to help determine next year’s allocation. After this process is complete, the group would be disbanded until the next election cycle.

Second, a new collection of student leaders from diverse student groups should be convened as a means to interface with administrators. Such a group would include students from as varied interests as club sports, religious groups, Greek-letter organizations, advocacy and performance arts groups among others, with standard representation reserved for each facet of student life.

Such an organization could meet to formulate opinions on controversial issues – such as the debate over Square 54 or the seizure of student property during health and safety inspections – or be used as a method by which administrators are able to obtain student opinion and input directly from those who are most engaged in campus life.

Third, under this new system the SA would not be dissolved. Although tempting, without the aforementioned responsibilities the SA would enjoy far less power than it currently has. The SA’s predisposition to scandal and frivolous debate is directly derived from the immense amount of power it has been arbitrarily accorded. When you divest the responsibility of allocating funds from the SA, as well as removing its monopoly on presenting student opinion to the administration, it ceases to be the most important student group on campus. Instead, it becomes a powerful participant in the process, but not the campus hegemon.

The system of student representation is broken. It must be fixed. Instead of continuing to tolerate the status quo, students should demand a new system in which improvements in student life are no longer subjected to the political whims of a collection of aspiring politicians. Maybe then we won’t have to read about scandals year after year.

-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet’s senior editor.

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