Start the Revolution

It has become clear that the current state of student government at Colgate University is no longer tenable. Students from both inside and outside the SGA realize its failures, understand its inadequacies and are all hoping for drastic change. This change could come in the form of new leadership; two recently-elected and very able executives wait in the wings for their chance to govern and bring their ideas and talents to Colgate. Change could come from the Constitutional Revision Committee (CRC), with a new constitution and a reinvigorated political culture on campus as a result. Change could also come in the form of a revolution, including mass resignations of officers and senators alike and the establishment of an entirely new student advocacy body. Change in our student government could be radical, it could be incremental, it could be grassroots, it could be top-down, it could be powerful and effective or it could fail completely. Nonetheless, it seems we are all ready to press for that change, so where do we go from here?

Over the last two weeks a group of experienced Colgate student leaders have intensely studied that question and arrived at two conclusions. The first is that great change takes time. The second is that smart, effective and worthwhile change includes everyone.

This discussion commenced with the thought of resigning our positions within the current SGA, establishing a new government called the Student Union (SU), pushing for a referendum from the students granting legitimacy to the SU and installing a constitution that had few similarities with the one under which SGA currently governs. Quite frankly, we worried that nothing short of a revolution would grab the attention of Colgate’s student body and galvanize sufficient support for an effective student voice here at Colgate. There is no doubt such a method would unquestionably create excitement, discussion, turmoil and significant change; however, it ignores the reality that, given ample time, the imagination of 2,700 brilliant Colgate students can devise something far better and more effective – an organization that is a true reflection of Colgate. (It also ignores the fact that most of us are graduating in four weeks, finals start in three weeks and, most importantly, SPW is in two weeks – but those are minor details).

What then, do we hope to accomplish during the remainder of this school year? We hope to begin a debate that will ultimately lead to the creation of a new model, the Colgate model, which will establish a new standard for student government in higher education.

Our dilemma is far from unique; there are colleges and universities all over America struggling to understand what purpose student government should serve, or even if it should exist at all. For example, Occidental College in Los Angeles recently dissolved its student government because the administration was simply tired of dealing with controversies. A simple Google search for the terms “student government” and “revolution” turns up multiple examples of this phenomenon. Colgate can be the place where these problems are solved and, greater than that, the place where creative, intelligent, social and enthusiastic leaders will congregate to understand, to evaluate and to innovate the way we know nobody else can.

We also believe that the old model of representation is flawed, and that a new one must take its place. We propose a better way to represent the student body through government – a simple system of interest-based representation. This system appreciates the fact that there is a need for a natural constituency in government, something that the residential system under which we currently operate does not address. Rather than electing (or often choosing by default) a senator for a residence hall of 150 unrelated students, we will look to Colgate’s numerous, diverse and powerful student factions, organizations and interests. Groups such as the Inter-Fraternity Council, the Pan-Hellenic Council, the Colgate International Community, the Residential Life Staff, Student Organizations and Clubs, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and numerous others would send representatives to this new government.

We want to take advantage of the natural ties, interests and goals that these factions already share. These groups would be asked to meet regularly to discuss campus issues, making it much easier for their representatives to the new SGA to effectively speak on their constituencies’ behalf. This simple change would immediately hold representatives accountable for their actions, allow them to speak their minds as well as their constituents’ and create meaningful and representative debate in our governing body.

We have identified representation as a fundamental problem with our current system of government. We recognize that there are others that need to be addressed. This is only one solution that has been developed in a short period of time by a small number of students; however, we hope that it generates a process of change that will not be ours to control or to claim as our own. Instead it will be the Colgate method controlled, inspired and supported by all Colgate students.

We hope to be a small group among a much larger whole who stand up in recognition of the fact that there is no clear student voice at Colgate, and that we allow this to continue only at our own peril. A powerful imagination is not required to dream up a scenario when Colgate students may need an influential voice in the future. It is our sincere hope that when we do need that voice it has grown powerful, wise and, above all, truly legitimate.

Luis Boettner ’08

Preston Burnes ’06

Amy Dudley ’06

Robert Fenity ’06

Erin Grundy ’06

Julia Heymans ’08

Matt Kroll ’07

Drew Lane ’06

Jacob Lindauer ’08

Rodney Mason ’06

Christopher Nulty ’09

Martha Rose ’07

Patrick Sabol ’07

Matthew Wisnieff ’08

Christopher Woodyard ’06