Committed leadership

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September 20, 2010

11:24 PM

Student Assembly elections are always an unmistakable onslaught of campaigns based entirely on a combination of crudely photoshopped flyers and blinding eagerness. This year’s crop of freshman candidates, 23 in all, are certainly campaigning as enthusiastically as expected. But, as an open senate seat for the class of 2011 shows, that initial enthusiasm often wears off far too quickly.

Obviously, senators resigning mid-term is far from a new phenomenon — but that’s part of the problem. The overall SA retention rate over the past few years is shoddy at best, with senators seemingly resigning left and right. This is a disappointing trend accompanying an institution we already find disappointing too often. We adamantly hope that whoever wins this Thursday’s election helps reverse that trend, instead of contributing to it.

Whether due to competing commitments or lack of interest, many SA representatives end up resigning from their positions — and to be sure, many more than that have already resigned themselves mentally. In most clubs, a certain number of students will naturally lose interest over the course of the year, when their course loads become too heavy or other activities more demanding. But the SA, as an organization, should not be forced to weather such rapid turnover. These are students who, we hope, are actively engaged with the College of William and Mary’s administration and well-versed in SA procedure, neither of which is quickly learned. The increasing number of vacant positions merely makes the already largely ineffective organization even more so.

SA resignations may be partially caused by the fact that, despite their overenthusiasm, campaigning freshmen are not aware of the level of responsibility to which they are committing themselves. That much is clear enough from the wild campaign promises candidates quickly learn they haven’t the authority to actually fulfill. The realization that the SA’s sphere of powers is strictly limited and its normal operation is mired more in procedural minutia than sweeping reform is surely enough to disillusion any freshman senator.

It takes innovation and insight to design initiatives both useful to the student body at large and possible under the SA’s budget and limited authority. That is not to say it’s impossible. There have been some clear examples of the SA — and senators — making small but substantial improvements to the college community: bussing students to the polls during the last election, providing free STI testing at the Student Health Center, as well as funding the emergency expenses of several organizations.

But sadly, the actual operation of the SA is soon left to a handful of active senators — the unfortunate minority. In a room filled with people who presented themselves as eager activists for their respective classes, the same three or four names pop up, as writers or cosponsors, on nearly every bill.

Certainly, there’s no reason for inaction. The College is far from perfect, and the SA is one of the few avenues with enough available funds to make some meaningful difference. The SA’s consolidated reserve, ballooning over recent years, should be seen as an opportunity, not as a burden.

It’s sad that we even find it necessary to ask of our representatives something so fundamental as a basic commitment. Our standards for satisfactory SA members have fallen so low that all we find ourselves hoping for, at the very least, is continued attendance. Incoming freshman senators: If you give us that, we’ll be satisfied. If you give us more, we’ll be thrilled.

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