Column: SGA should be smaller and do less
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 3, 2012 18:05
In my four years here, I have noticed that one hardly ever hears a good word uttered about SGA. Indeed, Loyola has its own “beltway,” inside which well-informed students obtain generous funding for their initiatives and enjoy an enriched student experience; but to everyone else, SGA seems like an organization that “does nothing” or that communicates poorly. Observing a constantly negative opinion of SGA through four years and several regime changes, I have begun to connect this situation with that of the broken clock that always indicates some arbitrary time, which is correct twice daily, but otherwise spurious. Nevertheless, it would be worthwhile to discover how SGA might be improved.
SGA attempts to satisfy a sort of dual mandate: to function as both a government and programming body. Some students join SGA because they are interested in politics and governance, as I did. Others join to conduct programming or to plan events. To be sure, both are aspects of government at the local level—for example, the City of New Orleans provides essential support for Mardi Gras. Indeed, SGA, especially after its merger with the University Programming Board (UPB), must support programming at Loyola.
But the city’s chief contribution to Mardi Gras is behind-the-scenes support, like security and traffic control, while the spectacular aspects, like the floats and music, are left to the Krewes. Likewise, SGA should support student organizations in planning their events. To be sure, some senators’ programs are quite good, but great events are better left to student organizations dedicated to the advancement of a special interest. SGA simply has not matched UPB in programming quality. SGA, Co-Curriculars, and UPB have made the right decision by spinning off SGA’s programming to UPB.
Furthermore, the Senate has too many members. It is possible to get only so many good people to be in Senate; the rest form an always-yea voting bloc that adds nothing to the debate and captures no additional student voices. Probably the greatest problem SGA faces is an abundance of marginally involved senators. I know of several persons who hardly spoke in senate this year; when I was President of the College of Music, two of my college’s four senators never attended senate in the spring semester. Having sat in Senate and in committees, I have observed that everyone contributes in committees, whereas few contribute in Senate. Shrinking the senate would eliminate dead weight and improve debate at meetings.
Obviously every student is responsible for his own lousiness, but when a body of elected officials is lousy, perhaps the voters are partially to blame. In fact, I can think of one highly involved senator who was ousted by a more popular student who turned out to have poor attendance and whose term ended early in resignation. Unfortunately this often cannot be helped: Student government will always be a popularity contest.
It is true that SGA is an imperfect institution, but even if SGA does not accomplish its ostensible “mission,” it does something far more important: It educates students. This can be the only true justification for “student” government, not some hippie’s idea of democracy. In SGA, students learn the bureaucratic process by doing: Students prepare funding requests, decide which requests to fund and learn parliamentary procedure. This goal is far more worthy than getting an exterminator to the eighth floor of Buddig or convincing Sodexo to fix the soft-serve machine.
Student government accomplishes a worthy goal at Loyola. I have learned a great deal from it, and I hope that others will, too.
Edward Seyler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org