Chun: If Assembly Were Angels

by Steven Chun | 4/18/16 5:30pm

With the recent blitzstorm about Student Assembly elections, I felt like it would be a good time to write about our governing body. Then I realized I had no idea what Student Assembly actually does. So I did what any curious college student would do: go to the Assembly’s website. A few initial impressions: the landing page is a photo slideshow, of which slides one, two and four are the exact same picture with different captions. The “SA News” section’s last post was on Sept. 16, 2012. The website highlights two of the Assembly’s recent initiatives — the Dartmouth Group Directory and Course Picker. The DGD hasn’t been updated in four years, based on the page for this newspaper, which lists a ’12 as editor-in-chief. The Course Picker, on the other hand, does not work whatsoever. Any attempt to search for a class immediately returns an error. But maybe their website just has some issues — it might not reflect the state of Student Assembly. After all, the recent Bill of Rights website certainly looks great, and maybe the fact that two of their initiatives have gone nowhere is just a coincidence. But if the prevailing opinion on campus is to believed, it’s not.

The Assembly’s current annual budget is $44,000, down from $58,000 for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. And yet despite such a massive allocation of funds, it is difficult to pinpoint any concrete accomplishments. The much lauded Bill of Rights is, at first glance, a significant move forward. However, there are several glaring issues. The foremost of these is the fact that it has absolutely no authority. It’s unclear whether the administration has agreed to the bill at all, but considering the Assembly’s history, it’s unlikely anything will come of this. The return on investment for Student Assembly is close to zero.

Assembly members have confessed their own bewilderment at the organization. Upperclassmen have explicitly advised me against participating in Student Assembly. The student body rejects the Assembly as an advocate, as a representative body and as an effective organization. Indeed, in the process of writing this article, the Elections Planning and Advisory Committee released the results of the election; 1,556 students cast ballots for Student Assembly president, representing 36 percent of Dartmouth’s undergraduate population. This is a mere fraction of the student body and clearly shows a lack of interest in the Assembly on the part of students — the very people the Assembly is supposed to represent.

Yet, the administration gives the Assembly $44,000. True, we need a student government, but that government doesn’t need such a ludicrous sum of money for the trifling, if any, accomplishments it manages. There is only one logical solution: slash the Assembly’s funding. This sum of money, a full $44,000, goes a long way in any other organization. Student Assembly needs reform and, until it can prove it is worth $44,000, it should receive a substantially reduced budget. After accounting for certain important programs, such as subscriptions to national newspapers for the dining halls and “Take A Faculty Member to Lunch,” the Assembly’s budget needs serious reevaluation. Critics might argue that Student Assembly cannot have the impact students want with a slashed budget, but, with such a substantial budget, it is absurd to argue that the Assembly’s problem is a lack of funds. A reduced budget would not only free up funding for productive student organizations but also pressure the Assembly into being effective and purposeful with their expenses — Patagonia jackets aside.

This past Assembly election gives me hope. The candidates seemed to be aware of the organizations’s dismal track record, and their proposals reflected a desire for the Assembly to implement concrete change. These changes ranged from softer toilet paper and standing desks to simply donating Assembly funds — but the student body is disillusioned with the Assembly and years of campaigns have promised change that never came. Student Assembly simply isn’t beholden to the student body nor to any standard of productivity. But it is beholden to the Undergraduate Finance Committee, who establishes the Assembly’s funding. A change is possible. If anything, an ineffective student government shouldn’t cost Dartmouth tens of thousands of dollars a year. Elections and scandals have failed to change Student Assembly. A tight budget might be the pressure the Assembly needs to focus on a few meaningful projects. There’s too much to fix on campus — too much change still in the works to not have a productive Student Assembly.