Ending the SGA’s USA Today Mentality

I’ve been publicly skeptical of the Student Government Association’s ability or motivation to address substantive issues in the past.  (For background, I’m not the first MiddBlog writer to question the approach of the SGA).  I want to try to keep an open mind and give the SGA the benefit of the doubt, but quite honestly, I see no reason to think the SGA will do anything substantive this year.

Allow me to explain what I mean by “substantive.” As I have said in the past, last year’s SGA is viewed by many as being the most impressive in recent memory.  They funded OINK (freshman orientation), saved midnight breakfast, etc.

Last year’s SGA did go beyond the low bar set by past SGAs, but please, let’s have some sense of perspective. If the administration gave pretty much any group of 15 or so students a massive budget, I’m pretty sure they could find a praiseworthy way of spending the money on school programming.

I mean to suggest that the SGA should do more than spend the money given to it by the administration. If they claim to be the elected voice of the student body on campus, they should address some real issues(see footnote). If they’re interested in spending the administration’s money, they should call themselves what they are, a finance committee.  I think it does a disservice to this community for the SGA to say that they’re our elected leaders if they don’t lead.

To be fair, the general apathy of the student body plays a huge role in this. I think it’s fair to say that most people on campus don’t care or know much about the SGA. But the SGA doesn’t give most people on campus reasons to know or care about what they do (beyond midnight breakfast).

Plenty of USA Todays and Boston Globes, but no New York Times to be found at 10 a.m. in Proctor.

To its credit, the SGA pays for the newspapers in the dining halls (with money given to them by the administration).  Middlebury students love this.  You always see them reading the New York Times at lunch or breakfast.  One thing, though.  I rarely see people reading the USA Today. (I do read the USA Today occasionally for the sports page. I like their graphic stats and nice, simple sports articles).

For some reason, the SGA still buys about the same number of copies of the New York Times, USA Today and Boston Globe.  My guess is that some ambitious member of the SGA put this contract into place a few years ago … and no one has had the motivation to take a second look at it.

So next time you get frustrated that there aren’t any copies of the New York Times for you in Ross, I suggest you close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and send the SGA some positive creativity vibes.

Or you could run for SGA and actually do something.

footnote: The response I’ve heard in the past is that people don’t know what “substantive issues” there are on campus.  A few off the top of my head:

  • I’ve heard that this year’s Freshman class is the wealthiest in recent memory. What does this mean?  Is it just a bi-product of the recession? Is there anything that can be done to prevent this trend?
  • I think it’s a little unfair that you don’t get an extra credit for intensive science lab classes courses…. I think most people agree on this and the SGA needs to actually do something about this…
  • We could pretty easily improve upon the questions on the Professor evaluation sheets.

But really, my point is that the SGA shouldn’t just address obvious issues (like the ones I mentioned above).  If you don’t have creative ideas, you shouldn’t run for SGA. If you’re on the SGA and you don’t think your role is to do innovative things, call yourself the administration’s budget committee for discretionary student spending.

Also: Last year, there was a Middlebury Campus editorial arguing something similar to what I argued above. Full disclosure: I was on the editorial board of the Campus at the time.

Late update: One last thing: if you’re on the SGA and your excuse is that the administration won’t listen to your good ideas, get loud and angry. My personal opinion is that this school’s administration is generally pretty reasonable so I think they would listen if you really had a good idea.

Later update: I got a fact wrong in writing this, but I think if anything, correcting my mistake strengthens my argument.  The administration does not give the SGA its money. The SGA money comes through the student activity fee, so in the purest sense, the administration does not give money to the SGA.  But really, the administration endorses the activity fee at times implicitly and at others explicitly (as I understand it).  I don’t fault the SGA for having money. I fault the SGA for not doing more than spending money.

In fact, most of the student activities fee is spent by the finance committee, which as far as I can tell, doesn’t really interact much with the SGA. So really, the SGA doesn’t even deserve much credit for spending money in my book (ahem, USA Todays anyone?).

(note: I made these three updates before anyone commented on this post. I’ll try to do a better of thinking things over before I go live in the future. Generally, though, I don’t think the confusing details of SGA/administrative bureaucracy should scare people away from this issue.)

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15 thoughts on “Ending the SGA’s USA Today Mentality

  1. Totally agree with this George, thanks for bringing this to our attention. One more suggestion in the vein of ‘substantive issues’: Why doesn’t SGA work on a Food and Agricultural studies academic program? Anyone who’s been to MiddFood.com knows that its feasible given our current course offerings and that there’s a ton of student support for it.
    Hopefully the SGA will take this post and the ideas that come out of it seriously.

  2. Very very very well done. I hope a lot of people read this, especially the SGA. As great as Midnight breakfast is, it’s only four nights a year. And I have to admit, I did not choose Middlebury for its Midnight breakfast. Some academic issues, I’d say, mighhht be a bit more important.

    “I don’t fault the SGA for having money. I fault the SGA for not doing more than spending money.”

    Though some may disagree, the “real” government does do more than spend money. Smart policy can do more than direct investment any day…

  3. Nice piece. I don’t think it’s relevant to the issue of newspapers whether the SGA gets their money from the administration or through the student activities fund, but I do think, as elected officials with the power to spend this money, they should consider where it goes more seriously.

    On newspapers, I think instead of an excess of USA Todays, the student body would appreciate getting the weekend editions of the Times (though it is more expensive). I don’t know what the budget is for papers, but I think it’s worth considering cutting half the Boston Globe order and getting either the LA Times or a financial (or conservative) paper like the WSJ for a different perspective and broader focus.

  4. I completely agree on the extra credit for a science lab. EVERYONE knows that is like taking an extra course and the fact that this school does not recognize the extra work is crazy. ALL other schools give a credit to people for a science lab. I am not asking for a whole other grade but rather just an extra credit.

  5. Just wanted to let you know the reason for the USA Today’s, George. USA Today is the company that funds the College Readership program. You have to purchase a certain number of USA Today’s along with whatever other newspapers you get. I agree we need more Times, but the SGA can’t drop the USA Todays that easily.

  6. Thanks everyone for your responses.

    @Anonymous: Can you expand on this? Are you a member of SGA? What is the “College Readership” program? Is there a way to work with or around this program?

  7. Thanks Ryan. I agree, that may be the program Middlebury is using, but there’s no way to know if the SGA doesn’t chime in. I’ve been in communication with a member of SGA, so I know they’re aware of this post (I don’t feel it’s right to call people out by name yet). I understand that it may take time to respond to my larger critique of the the SGA, but can someone on SGA please fill us in on how the USA Today contract works (without commenting anonymously)?

    (And for the record, I’m not necessarily arguing that we should completely get rid of all the USA Todays.)

  8. Hi all,

    My name is Tony Huynh, and I am the current SGA sophomore senator and speaker of the senate this year. This issue was addressed last year. It is actually cheaper to bundle the USA Today with our current newspaper counts of the New York Times and Boston Globe, than to just buy our count of the Times and Globe individually.

    Additionally, if anyone from MiddBlog would ever like to have a sit-down discussion with me about SGA’s vision or goals (or at least my own), you are more than welcome to (this also extends to any other Middkid).


    Tony

  9. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for your response. I appreciate that SGA will look into the newspaper issue.

    I don’t want the USA Today thing to become too distracting, though. My main critique is that the SGA should work to address substantive issues that don’t (necessarily) involve spending money.

    (also: I’m setting up a time to meet with SGA President Riley O’Rourke and also hopefully Tony)

  10. I do want to follow up on one thing: I had a pleasant time this morning in Proct[eu]r reading the USA Today (there were no NYTs available). Yes, the paper is meant for a popular audience, but it isn’t complete crap and does some good original reporting (sorry I’m writing my thesis about journalism … I get caught up in this stuff).

    So my point about the USA Todays is more a point about demand from the student body than it is a pretentious one about the New York Times. Also, there’s this matter of the contract that Tony and Riley are going to look into.

    Once again, though, I want to reiterate that I wrote this post to make a larger point that the SGA should be the leading voice on campus … or it shouldn’t call itself the SGA.

    (part of being a leading voice on campus is communicating with the student body, perhaps even by actively commenting on a certain student blog that gets thousands of hits every week….)

  11. Being abroad, I’m not up to date on all the current issues, but I’d like to address the “SGA” more broadly. As background, I was a member of SGA for the last two years (senate then cabinet), and on Community Council last year.

    But before that: I was involved in SGA for two years, and the newspaper issue came up multiple times. It is possible to change the ratios, but as Tony mentioned, the prices are different (i.e. nyt >BG>USAToday, or something like that).

    In reality, the SGA has much less power than most people seem to believe. Technically, many issues that one would think the SGA should deal with actually go through Community-Council. Anything that involves more than one group on campus (the faculty, the staff and the students) has to go through community council.

    For example, the keg policy that was revised last year. It came out of Panzer’s campaign but was ultimately hashed out in community council with only a couple SGA members involved. This was necessary because public safety (staff) and the liquor inspector (administration) had to be involved.
    The same would go for any academic issue like a major, or extra credits. In reality, there are very few issues that affect students alone; most have spill over effects.

    One of the reasons that Mike Panzer was successful was that his cabinet was made of mostly his close friends, which created continuity. This is the same type of thing that needs to exist between the SGA and Community council. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating nepotism, but rather continuity.

    A level is continuity is all ready built into the constitution, in the sense that the SCOCC is supposed to attend SGA senate meeting, and the SGA president is supposed to attend community council meetings. In reality, this doesn’t happen.

    Consolidating SCOCC and SGA president is one option, but that could become a lot of meetings for one person during the week. I think a better option is to have half, if not more, of the Community Council student representatives come from the SGA senate itself. This would decrease the diversity of the student voice, but increase continuity.

    The next big topic addressed in the post was student apathy. In all honesty, raising student awareness is going to be a publicity campaign. The SGA needs to latch onto every good thing it does and publicize the hell out of it.

    The finance committee is sub-committee of the SGA, and it funds all the student clubs, and most activities (including all MCAB events). A start would be from them to request the SGA logo on more student posters, e-mails, etc. It would require minimal effort and could have a major impact.

    Of course, the SGA will always depend on the personalities involved.Hopefully, if the SGA is given a more powerful platform and they utilize their publicity committee, the “right” people will want to get involved.

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