Whoever said politics was boring clearly never bothered to pay any attention. In just one year we’ve seen allegations of voter fraud, a coup d’etat, and even some resignations. Oh, and by the way I’m not talking about House of Cards or Gangs of New York. I am, of course, gushing over Bates College Student Government (BCSG): an organization equal parts self-righteous and self-loathing, who can be proud of continuing the great American tradition of political theatrics. After all, who can worry about the state of our campus when we get to relish in such a calamitous trainwreck? In all seriousness, I think it is about time we had a frank discussion about the debacle that was last year. Surely, it was an all-time-low, and I don’t know about you, but I am sick of our “leaders” being constant sources of embarrassment to the community. Hopefully, some of you reading this are prospective members of BCSG. If that is the case, I urge you to read on so that you may see in what ways your predecessors have failed and what you can do to get this train back on track. Some will say I can’t have my cake and eat it too, but I don’t think it’s too much to hope that one day we might have a student government that performs its job dutifully.
I’ll start with the obvious: the greater purpose of a student government. First and foremost, the mandate of a student government is to represent the students. That means wherever student interests are at stake, it must lobby on our behalf. Some of you may think that student governments have no real power. While that seems to be the case at our school, it is not true by necessity. Provided the government has the support of the students, it actually wields a tremendous amount of power. Think about it. Without students, the college cannot function. We afford the college power through our tuition payments and participation in the community, and that power can be taken away. If we all cared enough and had leaders who were invested in our interests, we could very easily change the direction of the school through civil disobedience, active picketing—you name it. However, usually all the government should have to do is leverage its influence over the student body to get things that it wants from the administration. The problem occurs when a student government does not believe it has any power. In such a case, it has already lost any hope of affecting change. Barring that, a student government should be able to effectively make reasonable demands of the administration while challenging their policy and spending priorities.
Why has BCSG failed at this most basic of functions? Plain and simple: they have neglected to identify the students’ biggest needs, and as such, have not adequately pressured the administration for change. In fact, they don’t seem to have pressured the administration for much of anything. Besides their anemic vote of no confidence following the end of trick-or-drink, BCSG did not respond to the needs and concerns of the students in any meaningful way. Frankly, I don’t know how that is possible, given the litany of complaints from all angles of student life.
Take for instance a common consensus amongst Bates students that our faculty is in need of expansion. Many schools with a similar pedigree and student population to Bates have more professors than we do, while offering majors and minors that we could only dream of. For example, our Brunswick counterpart, Bowdoin, has approximately 235 faculty members where Bates boasts around 209. Economics, one of our largest academic departments, is lagging behind both Colby and Bowdoin, who have roughly 18 faculty members, whereas Bates has 14 give or take, depending on the numbers of professors on sabbaticals and of visiting professors. These faculty numbers matter, since they dictate the number of classes offered each semester, and, perhaps more importantly, the sizes of the classes offered. Students should not be doomed to absurdly large core classes and electives along with endless petitioning just because they pick a popular major.
Another issue is that of our student activities and club budget fund. According to the budget committee, the total amount typically increases 3 percent per year, but did not increase this year due to a large increase last year. If this is the case, why did so many clubs see cuts this year? Noteworthy cuts include those to Model UN, who saw their funding cut by $750; OUTfront, which lost close to $200; and club volleyball, which lost $1400, according to their respective club leaders. I won’t take the time now to try and unravel the inane club budgeting process, but you can rest assured that, structurally, it is set up to be a perfect storm of nepotism and callousness, as it has no oversight. The clubs I am a part of, rugby and Model UN, now rely on donations to function at a reasonable capacity. I’m sure many of you are also part of clubs that either consistently lose funds or maintain the same funds regardless of performance. Instead of challenging the administration to significantly increase the overall size of the budget as a team, BCSG has focused on justifying its unequal distribution, while the rest of the clubs fight for the scraps. This plays right into the hands of administration and goes unaddressed by BCSG, which does not seem the least bit interested in asking the administration to allocate more funds to student activities.
Something we can all agree on is the lack of transparency from the administration with regards to unilateral action. The end of trick-or-drink, the loss of many cherished Bates employees, and a host of other changes were decisions made without consulting the student body. But has BCSG shown strength in the face of mindless bureaucracy? No. To this day, they have failed to procure anything resembling transparency or a redress of our grievances. All we got was a pat on the back and a couple of new committees. Big deal. This is not what we wanted. We wanted legitimate answers as to why our favorite deans left Bates. We wanted a compromise to save the core essence of one our favorite campus traditions. We wanted an end to the shifty emails and double talk that emerged whenever the administration announced a change. BCSG needed to lead the charge. Time will tell whether or not this year will bring greater transparency, but BCSG’s radio silence on the matter, other than its pitiful vote of no confidence, has certainly not helped matters.
What then, has BSCG been doing, you might reasonably ask? Well the answer is short, and frankly, maddening: nothing. As I mentioned before, they did not take an interest in student issues. BCSG claims that their impotence was due to the ongoing restructuring priority. And it’s true, most meetings revolved around internal issues of restructuring and who was going to have what power. However, these meetings were not productive and often devolved into shouting matches. Eventually, per request, administration had to send in a mediator. Consider student government as a lobbyist group: can you imagine the federal government sending in a mediator to resolve personal differences within, say, a teacher’s lobby? The very notion is absurd. Eventually, when restructuring did occur, many members of the government were kicked to the curb, even though they had been democratically elected, replaced instead with appointments by the President or Vice President. This kind of action shows a further disregard for the electoral process, just like the dissolution of the democratically elected government. Finally, and most disturbing of all, scores of elected members of BCSG did not even bother to show up to any meetings. How depressing.
Rest assured, if we continue down the same path as last year, BCSG is doomed to failure. To the incoming government, try a little harder, fight a little less, and maybe this year you won’t be a joke.