SGA’s progress must deal with its past

Jeff Green

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As students at WIU, we are very fortunate to be part of an institution that is making attempts to move in a positive direction both academically and socially. Despite the recent rise in optimism for WIU, we must put all of this back patting on hold for the time being and not lose sight of the problems that still stand before us as a student body.For years the interests and concerns of students at WIU have been “represented” by an elected body of student officials operating under the guise of student government. For a great number of students the goings on and everyday business of the organization are relatively unnoticed. The reason behind this is very complex; lately the explanation has been the popular old bogey man of student apathy. For the most past this is partially true, yet not the absolute solution.

To count the litany of problems on campus our search will take us right to the door of the Student Government Association office. Our student government lays claim to the function that it represents students’ interests and serves as an outlet for student concerns at the institutional level. Its mission statement tells us: “The mission of the Western Illinois University Student Government Association is to promote the general welfare of students through the representation of their concerns, viewpoints, and interests regarding governance issues to administration faculty of our distinguished university.” This statement poses as a rather well-formulated claim in light of the realities student government has displayed over the past five years.

One can always allude to the basic function of a popularly elected and democratic government such as SGA – its elections. Basic political science tells us democracies thrive on the election process. Over the past five years SGA elections have been a fiasco in democratic practice rivaling that of some of the worst dictatorships in the world. The so-called voice of the student body has elected its members on several occasions with only a scant percentage of the popular student body input. A trip to the archives section of the library serves us with the proof. Over the past five years SGA elections have only on three occasions barely topped one thousand votes, nearly one-tenth of the WIU student population. The turnout levels reached 436 in 1993 and a pathetic 566 in 1996. And to top it off the last two SGA presidents have forgone the election process. What can we conclude from this data? SGA is not a model democratic institution and ultimately fails its test of representing student interests through democratic elections.

The second and most damning charge against SGA rests in its most crucial function – governing and initiating legislation to “promote the general welfare of students through representation of their concerns…” Browsing the newly formed SGA newsletter sheds some light on what really goes on in the name of student interest on Tuesday nights. Despite the well-worn SGA mantra of stopping student fee increases, improving the campus and aiding the progress of WIU, little is really addressed in the area of student interest. Every so often blue light issues or adding bike paths will surface. But the things mostly all SGA meetings produce are a long list of guest speakers and a great amount of fluff. To test the record of SGA on one of their most well-worn issues, student fees, proves what is really happening on Tuesday nights. Over the past five years student fees at WIU have increased from $238 per semester for full-time students in 1990-91 school year to $385.15 in 1996-97. This of course discounts the $65 rec center fee next fall and takes into account small inflation increases.

What does this tell us despite all of the cage rattling by SGA on the issue of student fees? They have had little impact on the problem. All that I previously stated proves that some sort of reform is due in the way SGA conducts and carries on its business. To conclude, SGA must realize that the burden of its problems rests not solely on the students who may be guilty of non participation. The burden of the blame rests on SGA for not providing any examples, leadership or channels of recourse for students to voice their concerns. Unless we have suddenly developed a situation on campus where there are no problems among the student body, SGA should consider its practices in order to ensure that students have proper representation of their concerns and viewpoints.

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