By Wilson C. ’20
Year after year, students running for the Executive Board promise to increase transparency within the student body. As many “Senior Survivors” might note, there has been little visible effort to genuinely increase that transparency. There have been half-hearted attempts like promises to send out minutes from Student Government meetings, or allowing students to attend some executive board meetings. These reforms, of course, were met with either swift disapproval or outright indifference from the student body, as nobody really seemed to care what goes on in Student Government meetings. This sentiment was echoed by many respondents to a recent Gazette survey evaluating Student Government, including by this anonymous respondent:
“It’s annoying to constantly have to hear about things I don’t really care that much about.”
This year, however, we have seen the most sweeping reform in terms of transparency in Student Government in recent memory thanks to the creation of the Student Government tab on the Resources page of MyCSUS. This is a strong move in the right direction for a more transparent Student Government. In the past, Student Government has taken “transparency” to mean sharing the details of Student Government meetings, which has always seemed a fairly uninteresting and unsuccessful way of closing the gap between students and the Student Government. The strength of the Student Government Resources page move rests in the Student Government’s new definition of what transparency actually means. No longer does it mean knowing the inner workings of Student Government, which nobody outside of Student Government has any interest in; instead, it means making the services of Student Government more accessible.
The truth is, most students won’t ever find themselves requiring Student Government services or any information about its operation, so much of what Student Government does at its numerous assemblies is a waste of time. Instead of focusing on preparing for these presentations, the Student Government should instead continue to focus on increasing students’ accessibility to their services, and how to most efficiently advertise these services. Personally, in conducting business for Gryphon Gazette, I’ve found Student Government services, including the new MyCSUS tab, and Student Government representatives to be extremely helpful and knowledgeable about how to go about doing what the Gazette needed to get done. However, despite the recent success, Student Government continues to face criticism.
Students continue to complain that Student Government is inept, annoying, inefficient, and lazy. While many of these critiques come from trolls trying simply seeking to irk their representatives, there are also students who are genuinely concerned about how Student Government operates. When prompted for any last comments on Student Government in the survey, a few students, two of whom seemed to be Student Government members, decided to write analytical paragraphs. Here are a few snippets:
Anonymous Student Government Representative #1: “If people have problems with the change we are attempting to enact, it’s their responsibility to speak up and say something to someone on SG. I believe that’s the way students can get what they want, to a certain extent, and the only way SG can improve.”
Anonymous Student Government Representative #2: “People love to [expletive] on Student Government but the issue is that their arguments lack any true merit or substance.”
Anonymous Student #1: “They are mostly pretty cool and do a lot of work! People complain a lot and it can be justified but it is probably disheartening for Student Gov reps to hear everyone hating on events/initiatives they’ve put a lot of work into. It’s not like the student body has that much of a right to complain when it’s not like we contribute.”
The two Student Government responses reflect a seemingly ongoing conflict between both the Student Government and the student body, as well as within Student Government itself, over the responsibility of the elected representatives to their constituents. Whereas Representative #1 understands how a representative democracy is designed to work, and recognizes the importance of the student voice, Representative #2 is clearly disgruntled with the functioning of the current system as it allows arguments which “lack any true merit.” Unfortunately, this is a part of being an elected representative: you get criticism, and sometimes it isn’t warranted, but as an elected representative, it is your responsibility to take this criticism into account. Representative #2 is understandably frustrated with the constant trolling that Student Government endures, and unfortunately, this is causing them to lose sight of the fact that some of their constituents might have something important to contribute. As we see through Anonymous Student #1’s response, students themselves perpetuate the degradation of democratic principles within their own Student Government in favor of protecting the pride of their representatives. Students certainly have “a right to complain;” if they didn’t, there would be no point in having representatives to represent their ideas. Student Government work may be frustrating and thankless, to a degree which most students probably don’t understand, but it’s no excuse to shut out student opinions to protect one’s own pride, and both students and representatives are guilty of allowing this to take place.
As Student Government continues to redefine what it means to be “transparent,” they must keep in mind the value of constituents’ opinions. True transparency depends not only the accessibility of student governments, but also on the openness and willingness of representatives to hear and implement feedback. Student Government must move past simply regurgitating students’ feedback annually; instead, they must continually seek out student opinion, and take it seriously, and yes, occasionally, with a grain of salt. Student Government’s recent initiatives have allowed them to take great strides past what previous administrations were able to achieve, but there are still further reforms than must be made, and these must begin with the students, not arbitrary decisions made by representatives which students are simply forced to accept, or risk being seen as ungrateful or disrespectful. As Locke once eloquently stated, a government has no power without the consent of the governed.