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).
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.)