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Deliver Us From "Student Government"

Mises Daily: Wednesday, July 14, 2004 by

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Colleges offer their students a taste of reality by simulating the political atmosphere of society with the presence of student government associations (SGAs). The election process alone succeeds in mimicking the cutthroat environment of campaign promises, schmoozing constituencies, and mindless pride. Rather than encouraging students to be productive in the academic sense, this element of student life encourages students to popularize themselves no matter the costs or disposal of ideological reason. The similarity that exists between class assignments and actual employment experience pales in comparison to how successful this process is at grooming our educated youths into the disgusting and putrid slime suited for life in the political mainstream.

Even students get swollen heads filled with ideas of controlling the behaviors of others to match their own moral interests.

The development of SGA's at Universities has typically been centered on the development of student honor codes. Disciplinary issues arise student interest and SGA's are formed to ensure communication between administration and the student body. Texas A&M's SGA was restructured in 1910 to enforce an honor system. In 1900 UNC's Chapel Hill philanthropy societies converted to a student council to better address matters of student discipline. And these two examples represent the norm of most aged institution's development of SGAs. Now the presence of an SGA is standard at almost all universities. The noble efforts of these SGA pioneers has not lasted long without leviathan attempts to affect the intricacies of all aspects of student life. This judicial nature of the student government grew its scope of influence to student organization chartering, budgeting and troves of other student life operations.

College life was born in the violent revolts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. All over the new nation colleges experienced a wave of collective student uprisings, led by the wealthier and worldlier undergraduates. College discipline conflicted with the genteel upbringing of the elite sons of southern gentry and northern merchants. Pleasure seeking young men who valued style and openly pursued ambition rioted against college presidents and faculty who were determined to put them in their place. In every case, the outbreaks were forceably suppressed; but the conflict went underground. Collegians withdrew from open confrontation to turn to covert forms of expression. They forged a peer consciousness and gave it institutional expression in the fraternity and club system.[1]

Fraternity, sorority, and club activities originated to protect student interests in the social activities of college life as a rivaling force against college administrations. Today's legal climate makes this balance of power slightly more complicated. Liability issues surrounding binge drinking, date rape, and alcohol poisoning have prompted universities to take a more active role in college life activities beyond the classroom. The lines of demarcation between administration and student body are blurred over by the operations of student governments. One becomes hard pressed to determine where the dividing lines of university student's lives that pertain to their administration begin and end. Student governments may work well at bridging the gap of communication between student bodies and administrations, but when endowed with the powers over budget allocation, judicial hearing, and chartering authority the SGA has become a bulbous entity of inefficiency and bureaucracy.

SGA's keep troves of paper work including meeting minutes, bylaws, constitutions. This love for red tape probably gives a great feeling of accomplishment to these baby bureaucrats. The duties and responsibilities of the president of University of Texas's SGA president include:

3.23(1) The President shall faithfully execute all acts of the Student Assembly.

3.23(2) The President shall be the representative of the students to the administration of The University of Texas at Austin, to the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System, to the City of Austin, and to the Legislature of the State of Texas.

3.23(3) The President shall serve on, or send a representative to, the committees, boards, and legislative bodies of which the President is a member.

3.23(4) The President shall, with advice and consent of the Assembly, nominate or appoint, as appropriate, students to serve on university committees and boards.

3.23(5) The President shall, with advice and consent of the Assembly, appoint students to serve on the Student Service Fees Advisory Committee and the Texas Union Board of Directors, and all other positions whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for and which shall be provided for by legislative mandate.

3.23(6) The President shall forward to the President of The University the names of students nominated to serve as members of the standing committees of the General Faculty and the Presidential Standing committees as provided in established University policy.

3.23(7) The President shall nominate the Chairperson of each Student Government Standing Committee. The President shall have the power to form Ad Hoc Committees and shall assign the members of such a committee.

3.23(8) The President shall, at each meeting of the Assembly, give information on the state of the University and the Student Government, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

3.23(9) The President shall have the power to, on extraordinary occasions, convene the Assembly of the Student Government by giving written notice to all representatives at least forty-eight (48) hours prior to the special meeting.

Yet nowhere does it mention going to class or maintaining a decent GPA, but as you can see SGA constitutions give actual legislative documents a run for their money.

Voting turnouts for SGA's across the board are absolutely dismal, marking just one more striking similarity between these student operated play grounds and the actual world of politics.
The mere process of chartering an organization can be a gauntlet of red tape at St. Louis University. Want to Become a Saint Louis University Chartered Student Group? First, you'll need to stop by the SGA office and complete a form which outlines the requirements you need to fulfill to become chartered. Aside from completing this form, which can take some time, you must also complete a four-month probationary status from the date this form is validated. In order to validate this form, you must contact Executive Vice President Maria Rodriguez to have a meeting to talk about the requirements to be chartered and the goals of your group. This form does not have to be complete to be valid. It must only be signed. Although it must be complete in order to be chartered. At this time, she will sign the form and you will become a Pre-Registered Student Organization. You are then permitted to reserve rooms through event services, although you may not receive annual or spot funding until after two months from charter or as soon as six weeks after pre-registration.

Performing the role of a student government representative is similar to that of performing the role of an actual government representative. While making decisions on matters he has no expertise in, he appears knowledgeable and benevolent. Mastering this technique makes him the perfect candidate for political office by achieving the most needed characteristic of governmental office: the ability to shirk responsibility.

The best way to fully grasp the ridiculousness of SGA activities is to take a look at what they are actually doing. Allow me to describe a few of the most ridiculous actions performed by the student government of my own alma mater. First, our SGA felt compelled to issue a resolution defining student opinion, taking a stance against the privatization of prisons. Wackenhut Inc. was purchasing advertising space in many of our campus buildings to attract college students as employed security officers. Allegedly Wackenhut security services has ties with a similar company that builds and runs private prisons, which are allegedly more prone to violence than state operated facilities.

A student activist took it upon himself to raise qualms with the student government for allowing such a heinous corporation the forum to spread its views on our campus. The SGA did not have the direct authority to ban corporations from buying advertising space on campus. As if a single statement could accurately express the opinions of thousands of student, they produced a motion nonetheless merely defining the general student opinion as taking a stance against the privatization of prisons. They did not even show the courtesy of surveying student opinion on the matter to mold their statement.

Seriously showing an interest in student opinion would demonstrate the futility of SGA and their efforts. If student opinion was genuinely against private prisons, then the lack of response by students to the advertisements would simply solve the problem by having Wackenhut remove their advertisement on its own effort to seek more successfully functional outlets. This exposes the real nature of student governments as a controlling force. Even students get swollen heads filled with ideas of controlling the behaviors of others to match their own moral interests.

The next SGA activity that comes to mind is the issuance of student fees to student organizations. Student activities fees simulate the taxing mechanism of real governments. Each student is charged a mandatory fee that is collected and redistributed amongst student organizations by the authority of the SGA.

In my last semester, our SGA designated an amount of $10,000 to Etc, the student organization dedicated to spreading social awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc lifestyles. Etc. applied for the money in order to host a fund raiser aimed at raising $3,000.

Most student organizations recognize a left-liberal bias that exists in the SGA budget allocation process. The same liberal bias exists throughout the entire spectrum of university function, thanks to the dependent relationship that has grown to exist between the profession of education and government subsidy. The process of student budget allocation pitches students against students to bid for the attention and support of SGA in an interest group fashion. If this demeaning process wasn't ridiculous enough, look back at the mere logistics of these allocations. Maybe the reader didn't notice what was intended by the figures listed above.

The $10,000 is not a loan that will be returned but rather a gift to the student organization with certain stipulations. Etc. is not free to spend that $10,000 directly on its own goals and entertainment but according to SGA regulations, they are allowed to use it to fundraise an amount as low as ten percent of their initial request. Once they raise this money it is theirs to do with as they wish. This process magically turns $10,000 into $3,000 or less.

This action reflects the same conflict of interests as the Wackenhut example. Unfortunately a more direct example exists still. The SGA cut a check to Amnesty International with the direct purpose of paying for postage to send letters to congressmen to lobby against the death penalty. The intellectual debates on our campus surely represent enough empiricism to show that student opinion is not uniform on this issue enough to justify a universal application of student activity fees. I for one do not feel comfortable knowing that money I spend on education is being used to fund political motives that I disagree with. Apparently allocating student fees according to a market setting would allow the student body too much personal freedom.

After viewing the SGA process from electing representatives, passing inane motions, and allocating student fees the general student body is apathetic, disinterested, and generally annoyed at the presence of such a wasteful and purposeless organization. Voting turnouts for SGA's across the board are absolutely dismal, marking just one more striking similarity between these student operated play grounds and the actual world of politics.

When I tried to outline the purposeful functions of a student government association, these are what I came up with. Initially I had planned on organizing the article around these four issues, defining them specifically and giving examples of their operational malfunctions, but even these functions become cloudy and incomprehensible as I tried to think of specific issues that would fall under each. Though each university has its own SGA they typically operate in much the same way, claiming these main purposes; to grant charters to student organizations, to allocate funding of student activity fees, and finally to represent the opinions of the student body to the administration and faculty of the university.

They attempt to define themselves clearly and purposefully yet have dismal results at each of these intentions. The only real purpose one can recognize in the operations of a student government association is the same function of our real government; to exert their own control over the personal actions of its citizenry to seek its own ends. Having recently received my undergraduate degree, I have one piece of advice to up and coming undergrads. Steer clear of student government just as you should of the actual government. Make the most of your academic career by being academically productive through research, practice and debate. One can only hope that businessmen and employers see through the charade of resume fluff that SGAs present to find the really intellectually competitive applicants.

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Daniel D'Amico studies economics at George Mason University, and is a summer fellow with the Mises Institute. ddamico@gmu.edu. This piece is awaiting future publication as part of Students of the Free Market book project. See: The Mises Blog on this. Discuss this article on the blog.



[1] Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. The 1960s and the Transformation of Campus Culture. History of Education Quarterly, Vol.26, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), 1-38.