Student Government: Shape up or ship out

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Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Since campaigning started on Feb. 17, candidates have spent thousands of dollars on their campaigns, the election supervisory board ruled on 13 different complaints and students cast over 7,000 votes for executive alliance only to be thrown out. 

When we published our endorsement three weeks ago, we endorsed an idea of culture change, which this organization so desperately needs. It is to our dismay, and likely to the dismay of the student body, that a change has indeed taken place, but for the worse. 

The election code has been a significant part of the problem. Any student can file an election complaint, but this year has seen that privilege taken to an abusive extreme. The vast majority of the complaints have been filed by members of either the Dimitroff-Guadiana or Helgren-Kim campaign teams, perverting a governing document into a weapon. The resulting confusion caused the Dean of Students to seize control of the election and void the results.

This toxic campaign culture is only too familiar to Student Government. In 2012, two executive alliance campaigns were disqualified, one of which later sued the state and the University. The election code was rewritten later that year to prevent future issues, but deep-seated problems remained: The cleared field led to the election of Thor Lund, perhaps best remembered for a misogynistic blog post about his dating misadventures as facilitated by his office.

Historically speaking, revising the election code is light treatment. In 1978, the predecessor to SG, the Students’ Association, was abolished entirely. While SG does not need to be abolished in response to a flurry of election complaints — ranging from lying on financial disclosures to taking issue with chili pepper costumes — it cannot continue as it does today.

Many students have no concept of serious, conventional candidates that work for the betterment of the University. But when Kori Rady and Taylor Strickland defeated Kenton Wilson and Caroline Carter for executive alliance in 2014, we had exactly that. Neither team filed a complaint against the other, and the students made their choice based on the vision they had for the University. This is what we should strive for in every election.

But this isn’t a fix-all. Candidates need to recognize the functional limitations of SG’s role on campus. It has the power to hand out appropriations to vital student agencies, appoint students to positions on boards across campus and reform its own governing documents. But it also passes dozens of resolutions every year about what it believes the University should be, though it doesn’t have the power to actually enact these policy proposals.

Since Rady was elected, the SG assembly has passed 43 resolutions and 10 bills. SG sees itself first as an agency that works on issues, without recognizing its inability to effect change on these issues. In so doing, it neglects the direct responsibilities it has. And when the code proved to still be inadequate, it is necessary to question: What has SG spent all year doing?

It is telling that in the weeks-long interim between campaign periods that the Chapman-Robinson campaign refocused their entire platform to call for a complete SG overhaul, and if that fails, the institution’s abolishment. While their focus on humor initially eclipsed their well-considered, comprehensive policy goals, their priority is on target. Other campaigns can learn a lot from their boldness to see SG for what it is and respond as reasonable people would.

We’ve heard a lot of talk about starting constructive dialogue on campus, yet the rapidity with which severals campaigns betrayed their integrity shocks the conscience. But it is time for this campus to think seriously about abolishing an organization so void of direction and power unless it can reform its mission, charge and procedures. That would be a conversation worth having.

Voting for the executive alliance special election starts today, and it is crucial that the student body makes itself heard loud and clear. We as a University community have a social interest in creating expectations for our student leaders that prevent this election season’s self-interested neglect for propriety to become the norm. Revising the election code may not be enough to purge SG of its past failures, but voting would be a good place to start. Do not allow the errors of others to invalidate your voice by robbing the student body of your vote.