Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Government By the People and For the People?

Despite the title, this is not a post about Democrats and Republicans. Rather, I'm thinking along more local lines. No, I'm not talking about state or city governments, either. I'm talking about student governments.

Long time readers may remember that I was a member of student government back when I was in college, and for a short time (although I doubt anyone would have connected the very brief mention of my time as Arts Concerns Chair to student government) in seminary. Now that I'm not a student, I'm really not as connected to that kind of thing anymore, but my office is located in a part of campus that overlooks the main student gathering space, the Garth, and so I couldn't help but notice yesterday when speeches were being given by the candidates for the upcoming student government elections.

A friend happened by my office at about that time, and I made a comment about it to her. She's a current PhD student who returned to Fuller after taking a few years away from the school to travel abroad, get married, and take some time apart from academia after having gotten her MDiv here. She commented that she wasn't very connected to the student government thing, and when I suggested that this was natural for a PhD student, who by nature doesn't have to be on campus all that often anymore, she corrected me to say that she was never very aware of Fuller's student government when she was a Master's student, either! When she left, I looked out my window again, and had to admit that, although the sound system was all set up, the emcee was lively, and the speakers were all prepared, there really weren't too many other people there listening to the proceedings. Although the speeches were set up in the ideal place to capture people's attention as they walked by, it seems that few really cared enough to stop and listen. Then a particular comment by the emcee caught me. After the candidate for ASC President (ASC stands for "All Seminary Council," what we call Fuller's student government) gave her speech, the emcee noted that she was the only person running for that office. "I wonder if she'll win," he said....

That was my situation when running for student government President at Montreat, too, and was also the case for pretty much every student election before and since that I have awareness of. And if there isn't any real interest among students to run for office, I can't imagine that too many students are all that involved in what the student government actually does.

There was an article in a recent edition of the seminary's newsletter, the SEMI (note that the link is to a PDF file. The article in question is the first one). In it, two current student government officers list a number of things that the student government has accomplished on behalf of students in recent history. Although the list is quite extensive, I still can't help but feel that it overstates the case for the necessity of student government. Not only do most students not take advantage of the vast majority of the items mentioned, but I'd go so far as to say that, for most of the items included, very few students were involved, and the same few students were involved in multiple events.

On one hand, it has always been very important to me that students be given a voice in how the seminary conducts its business and services. On the other, if students can't be bothered to be more involved in the activities that student government does, can it really be said that the student government adequately addresses their needs? Even worse, might the funds and resources given over to student government be used more effectively by different means? Fuller is, and has been for as long as I can remember, extremely tight for funds, and efficiency is very important. Although it is important that student needs be met, if their needs aren't being met properly by the current system, and if the current system is a drain on funds and resources, I'm forced to conclude that the current system of student government should be scrapped in favor of something that does the job better. (Perhaps we could apply this argument to national politics, but I'm not quite ready to make that leap yet.)

I'd welcome any comments that might help me change my mind.

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