Drunk with Power? SGA’s Legitimacy in Question

Pat Kabat

To the Editor:

Indulge me, if you will, in a Swiftian voyage to an imaginary community, which we will call Colony. Colony is a place full of people very much like you and I; a happy place, full of studied drinking. The Colonists have interests of their own, and assemble weekly at a Special Gathering of Alcoholics, where they discuss the policies handed down from the Administration at the center of the Empire (of which the Colonists are a very important part).

At first, this SGA was a very good thing. A responsible group of concerned Colonists, the SGA was visible, representative, and conscientious, keeping the most important interests of Colony close to heart. The SGA used to serve a useful function. They represented the Colonists to the Imperial Administrators.When Administrators did foolish things, or when Colonists were struggling with scarce resources, the Colonists assembled at the SGA to inform the Administrators of the Colonists’ various plights and issue recommendations, working constructively to resolve problems.

Unfortunately, the Special Gathering of Alcoholics became intoxicated with itself.Ceasing to be concerned with the interests of Colony, the Alcoholics became self-important and ambitious, assigning themselves titles, creating farcical committees and playing juvenile politics so that when they left Colony and explored the Rest of the Empire, they would seem impressive.

One time, a number of dangers threatened Colony. Food was scarce, and a ‘greedy and rapacious’ (in the irritated words of one Colonist) trading partner of the Empire was making it difficult for Colonists to eat.The Library, which Colonists needed for the curious Colonial ritual of convincing their Elders that they were intelligent, was under attack by Expansion, and Colonists had no-where to perform their academic ceremonies.

But the Alcoholics did nothing. Well, not quite.They formed Committees (none of which were relevant to either problem), they played Politics (attempting, characteristically unsuccessfully, to remove their Vice-Chief-Alcoholic), and they spent an entire year forming and reforming a new Constitution, which the Curiously irRelevant Committee failed to promulgate.The vice-Chief and Chief Alcoholics, dear Editor, wrote weekly columns in this very periodical to keep the Colonists informed about just how well they were doing nothing.

Under these dire circumstances, the annual Rite of Spring, in which the old and withered Alcoholics are replaced with young, thirsty ones, became a chance for renewal. But unfortunately, the Special Gathering of Alcoholics had forgotten what it was supposed to do.Instead of making promises to improve the representative-ness of the Gathering, or actually confronting the concerns of Colonists, the young thirsty Candidates promised Treats to the Colonists in return for the title of Chief Alcoholic.

Blinded by hubris, the Candidates had ceased to be concerned with what the Colonists needed, and cared only to achieve the vaunted (though hollow) crown of Chief Alcoholic. They promised irrelevant, though pleasant dreams on which they could not deliver. The two Candidates who promised the most pleasant dreams of all received their crowns, and another year of committees, politics, and self-congratulation was inaugurated.

This may, sensitive Reader, sound familiar. I do – and this I deeply regret – write with rancor. I write to call out this year’s presidential candidates, and to issue a very simple challenge. Make the Student Government Association worth something.

The campaigns currently being run for executive office in the Student Government Association are symptomatic of the broader problems of the SGA: the fruitless careerism which has led to a conspicuous failure to accomplish anything. Our candidates are offering what can only be described as bribes for office: things we don’t need, things they cannot deliver. It is this trend which makes me certain that we should vote for lack of experience with SGA: it seems to be more wholesome.

Some of the bribes are innocuously implausible. One ‘experienced’ candidate proposes to offer an extra day off before finals. He, of course, has all of our best interests in mind (except for the polled majority who consider it utterly unnecessary) and is confident that he can solve faculty staffing dilemmas better than department chairs like Professor Wagner or devoted administrators in the Registrar, who work tirelessly to meet unexpected demands during registration. Others are merely unnecessary: side dishes in the Coop, for example, can be accomplished by normal students filling out request forms. Mike Stagnaro is always happy to accommodate.

But all of these illusory carrots, these ‘pick me’ prizes which our careerist (or perhaps simply naive) candidates dangle in front of student voters have the deeply pernicious effect of obscuring the real issues, and the real function that a viable, responsible SGA can serve.

A simple resolution from a representative, authoritative SGA would be enough to highlight the profile of these problems, and point out ways in which students feel they are left unaddressed. This would be useful. This, in fact, is the proper role of SGA. Don’t offer us treats, candidates. Use the SGA as it was meant to be used; as it can be most effective. Give us a campaign season that will excite us about the things that a group of Colgate students working together can achieve. Don’t bribe us with individual conveniences – we can all submit menu requests in the Coop.

So make the SGA a representative, democratically legitimate organization. Pressure the administration to confront Sodexho and resolve the meal plan (particularly at the Coop, where a full meal plan will not buy you a ham sandwich and a soda). Look into the Library situation and secure study space and open up the books which are utterly ‘unavailable’. Above all, make the SGA into a powerful, committed body, which will earn the respect and attention of students, and thereby the ear of the Administration. For our Administrators care a great deal, and for their charity, I applaud them. If I were in their position, I would not suffer through a single resolution until the SGA was wholly reformed.

Pat Kabat

Class of 2006