White: SA oligarchy in need of reform

Student Association is an oligarchy. There, I said it. Eight people claim to represent the entire student body of Geneseo. Unfortunately, an oligarchy to represent 4,950 undergraduate students does not work.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the way SA business meetings function, students present readings which are discussed only by those who are able to come to the meetings. In the end, though, the only seven votes that count are those of the SA executive board (the president casts a vote only in a tiebreaker). And that's it. Seven students get to decide the fate of $1.3 million in mandatory student activity fees.

That's what I call an oligarchy.

Many will refute this point, stating that because we the students vote for the executive board, democracy exists. The problem is that a lot of the students do not vote and many of those who do don't know anything about the candidates. In the most recent SA election, 650 votes were cast; that's 13.1 percent of students. I personally had to judge most of the candidates based on their Facebook profiles, as I did not know who many of them were or for what they stood. When I asked other students about the most recent election, the most telling statement I got was, "Those happened already?"

The reason for these dismal numbers is the flawed representative structure of SA. There are no freshmen on the executive board and cannot be, as the vote happens before the entering class arrives. This excludes representation of almost 1,000 students. The current board is comprised of one sophomore, three juniors and four seniors. There is a clear underrepresentation of the lower classes, and a clear majority of representation in the hands of seniors.

No incident was more telling of this than the cancellation of the spring concert that, after a 3-3-1 tie, literally came down to one vote, that of President Haleema Murtaza, a senior. That one "no" vote decided for the entire school whether or not we would have a spring concert. There was nothing we, the students, could do about it. That one vote decided it for us all.

Another problem with SA is that it serves as both an executive and legislative branch. There are no checks and balances on its power unless you count Student Court, which only steps in during extreme circumstances. So what SA says, goes. One source inside SA told me, "[Being in SA is] a good way to know what's going on because it's the only way to know what's going on."

So how can we fix all this? Clearly, the oligarchy is a flawed structure. The means of representation needs to be reformed. I suggest a new way of representing the student body: Have each class elect three or four representatives to SA so the viewpoints and interests from each cohort are better represented. Give the Student Senate, which does next to nothing now, more power to place checks on SA. Require that decisions go through both of these bodies instead of just one. Give SA the ability to be either the executive or legislative branch of our government, but not both. Give the Student Court more power to oversee what SA does.

We need a student government at Geneseo, but it must be one that democratically and accurately represents the students of our school. Reforming SA is the only way to achieve this goal.