By: Jacob Cohen  | 

A Student Government Truly for the People

As is tradition, student government elections recently took place on the Wilf campus to elect our student leaders for the coming year. But what of the student government these new student leaders are joining? Student government and the student life office and the various entities attached to them are a complex web shrouded in secrecy. At YU, the apparatus that governs us is a messy hodgepodge of acronyms and organizations, some of which seem to exist only on paper. While some bemoan the apathy of the student body, many other students who are not members of student government do try to get involved by starting new student groups and joining boards of existing ones but find the process of planning, securing funding for, and advertising events to be overly cumbersome. Much like the US Government, YU needs a permanent committee reviewing the working of student government and shining a light on certain practices.

The first group to examine is the unelected bureaucrats who profess to represent students. I am, of course, referring to the student court, which the student constitution says shall have six members, and the Wilf Student Life Committee (SLC). The student constitution also makes reference to the Parliamentarian, “student senators,” and a “sergeant at arms”. The identity of these people seems to be unknown to the majority of students. In my four semesters at YU, two of which I sat on student council, I never met a Parliamentarian or Sergeant at Arms. Many of the people I have asked who currently or formerly have served on student council have also been unable to tell me the name of the Parliamentarian or what he does. No student I have asked seemed to know either. I repeated the same litany of questions for the Sergeant at Arms, and got the same response. Perhaps more importantly, what is a Student Senator? How many are there? Who are they? What are their responsibilities? How does one become a student senator? I do not have the slightest idea. No student or student council member I have asked seems to know that either.

Regarding the matter of the student court, in the time I have been here, I have been unable, despite my efforts, to identify the six members. I know the identity of one person on the court this year, but not anyone else on the court this year or last year. Again, no student I have asked was able to name more than 3 members of the student court during any year they were on campus. How often does the student court meet, what cases have it heard recently, and what has been decided? Again, I do not know and nor does any student I have asked.

Returning to the matter of the SLC, there is even more opacity. The SLC has almost no constitutional duties. In fact, the only two places in the constitution where the committee is referenced are the passages that declare the SLC’s Senior co-chair to be a member of the General Assembly, and the passage directing the Senior co-chair to bring copies of the constitution and Robert’s Rules of Order to General Assembly meetings. None of the students I have asked are aware of how one can become the SLC’s junior or senior co-chair. At the beginning of each year, the SLC allows students to apply to join it. But the qualifications to be accepted to the SLC are unknown to most students. The identities and responsibilities of those students who are selected remain largely unknown to the student body as a whole. The exact number and nature of the SLC positions also remain unknown to most students.

Another component of the Constitution that is sometimes ignored the section that states that a member of the General Assembly (the 4 student government presidents, the senior co-chair of the SLC, and the four class representatives) cannot be a board member of The Commentator, YCDS, or WYUR. Further, no member of the general assembly may be Editor in Chief of Masmid, a member of the student court, Student Senator, Resident Advisor, Editor in Chief of The Commentator, or Head Resident Advisor. In my time here, at least one member of the General Assembly fell into a category of student prohibited from such a post. The constitution also makes six references to the “Executive Council,” a term it never defines. Who is on the Executive Council? What does it do?

Another section of the Constitution provides for the creation of an Amendments Committee to deal with proposed amendments to the student constitution. Who is on that committee? When does it meet? The constitution specifies it must hold an open meeting every semester to which all students are invited. In my four semesters, there has been one such meeting to the best of my knowledge. No student I have asked recalled seeing any notice of a meeting of the Committee during this academic year.

A running theme throughout this article is that there seems to be a lack of transparency about the working of student government on this campus and its affiliated organizations. There is a lot more to discuss than that which I have been able to cover in the space allotted to me. I hope that this editorial will wake students up, both members of student government and the student body as a whole and recognize that student government is an institution that should serve students, and should work hard to ensure that all students have an opportunity to serve on student government and participate in student government. I would like to propose one solution here that will not solve this problem but will go a long way to reduce it. I propose that the Office of Student Life or YSU publish a packet, listing all the members of all student councils and related organizations, an email address or phone number to contact them, a short 2-3 line description of what they are responsible for, and a page or two outlining the qualifications for each position and how a student could run for it, be nominated for it, or apply for it. This packet should be updated every semester to reflect any changes made to the makeup of the positions or those holding them. A copy of the packet should be distributed to all students, new or returning, at the beginning of fall semester each year, and to new students arriving in January and post-Pesach. Copies of the packet should be available in the Office of Student Life as well as on its website.

There is a need for greater oversight, particularly over those positions which are not elected. What ends up happening is that those students in power typically appoint their friends to fill the posts, even if the friend is not necessarily qualified for it. It is difficult, however, to prove that except in reviewing the actions of these appointees, because there are no publicly published responsibilities or qualifications.

Fellow students, it is up to us to take charge of this mess. Make your voice heard. There is, or should be, a leadership role somewhere on campus for anyone who is passionate and is willing to work to make this campus a better place. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and work with him, and he with me.