How to reform the Assembly
The Student Assembly can, for once, completely agree on something: Dartmouth's student government is in need of severe reform.
The Assembly must get its house in order soon. It has little credibility left with the administration, the Board of Trustees and especially the student body. College leaders are turning to other venues and people to represent the students.
Last night, the Assembly's executive committee passed a resolution supporting a reform committee for the Assembly. The general Assembly should pass this plan Tuesday night, because it is the first step to restoring the Assembly's credibility.
When the reform committee finally sits down and gets to work, it will have to solve a multitude of problems in the Assembly. Some of these problems are in the Assembly's structure, while some of the problems simply have to do with the people currently in the Assembly.
Perhaps the Assembly's largest problem is its failure to truly represent the student body.
Twenty-four students are elected each spring from the entire student body. There is no breakdown by class year or constituency and no debate among the candidates for the at-large seats. Too often, the elections turn into a popularity contest, or even worse, students just vote for people because they recognize the name.
This lack of accountability is made worse by the fact that any student can join the Assembly simply by attending three meetings in a row. The nominations committee, which theoretically is supposed to limit the number of people who join the Assembly, rarely denies membership to a student.
In order to give each Assembly member a constituency to which he or she is responsible, each class should elect its own representatives -- perhaps 10 for each class. The incoming freshman class would hold elections after its Class Council is elected to choose its 10 representatives.
No additional students would be able to join the Assembly after the spring elections. If someone lost an election, he or she would have to wait until next spring to run again for the Assembly.
The freshman, sophomore and junior classes would all vote for the Assembly president and vice president, because these officials represent the entire campus. The other officers would then come from the general Assembly.
The senior class is the obvious absent party from these new election guidelines. Although seniors may have the most knowledge of campus affairs, they will not be represented by the new leaders.
Another fundamental problem with the Assembly is that its leaders are virtually powerless. In order for any government to function efficiently, its executive branch should have significant power.
In order to restore power to the Assembly president, he or she should be able to introduce legislation on the Assembly floor without approval from the executive committee.
The president should also be able to break ties in the Assembly, essentially giving the president two votes in a deadlock. This system has some historic background. The executive branch of the United States government has the same power in the U.S. Senate in the form of the vice-president.
This process would give the Assembly president considerable power, something that the position has not had in recent years. The Assembly president is elected with a student mandate and should act with such power.
The Assembly should speak for the entire student body. But the current Assembly does not represent the student body and seems incapable of speaking with a unified voice.
Making Assembly members responsible to their constituents and increasing the power of the president are two steps in the right direction. The Assembly's credibility will not return overnight, but it has to start somewhere. The proposed reform committee is a good place to start.