By the time this article goes to print the student body will have elected a new president for the Student Assembly. It may just have been me, but the lead up to the election seemed much less visible and pronounced than in previous years and especially than the last election. I barely knew campaigning had started until Pubcouncilgate broke, and now that it seems that it was just a few poorly chosen words and a lot of exaggerated hype, the candidates and the campaign have again become background noise. Neither The Flat Hat nor The Virginia Informer even endorsed a ticket.
Both took the opportunity to criticize the Student Assembly in general. The Flat Hat, wishing to appear above the fray, bought into the common fallacy that if you criticize all sides, you are a rational, sagacious centrist. Therefore the SA is too “polarized.” The Informer blasted the SA for being undifferentiated resume-padding automatons. Ignoring the fact that it would be very hard to be both polarized and identical at the same time, what happened to make even newspapers give up on politics?
Perhaps it is because the current — or previous, as of today — administration has been quite boring. It has picked very few high profile fights and engaged in relatively little grandstanding. Their most drastic measure, denying the Honor Council funding, was the result of a bill passed the semester before the administration took office. Since then, the SA has operated under the radar of most students. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The things that get the student body’s attention rarely do anymore than just that. The end result is usually a bill that recommends that someone else do or change something.
What the outgoing administration has done is exactly what they promised to do: Make the SA a better resource with which to enable students to do the things they want to do. This is not glamorous and it is understandable that many remain unaware. One step was the new website, which — although still glitch-ridden — provides easy access to information about the SA and an effective means of communication. A glance over the bills passed this semester shows the usual mix of code changes and resolutions against this or that, but also a substantial number of acts which directly benefit groups of students. The popular decision to fund a 24-hour Swem experience during finals has continued, of course, but there are new ones as well. The Roots were here because of SA money, and students can now file Freedom of Information Acts with the SA covering the cost. Also, the SA funded a late night bus for students who went to see the most recent Harry Potter movie. Such a bill is inconsequential, but it illustrates exactly how the SA should function. They have the resources to provide the little services and perks that make life on campus a little more convenient. Ryan Ruzic J.D. ’11 wrote a recent editorial in The Informer that makes an excellent point. The SA is not the U.S. Congress, and they have very little power to shape the structure of our campus society. However they have the funds to let students pursue their interests within its confines.
In this way, we can judge that the outgoing administration did a decent job. During fiscal year 2009-2010, the SA allocated $169,530 to student organizations. In FY10-11, this number jumped to $190,486, while the total student fee budget only increased by $5,000. The main purpose of the SA is to be a resource for students, everything else is periphery. By this measure, the SA is not broken. It may be easy to mock their self-important moments and their endless procedural debates, but that goes with the territory. It seems that disdain for any governing organization is simply the way we were raised.
Is it just a coincidence that criticisms leveled at the SA — polarized, cliquish and detached — are used so much in national politics that they have become trite to the point of vacuity?