SA -- Limited and Superficial

by Peter Gray | 4/20/05 5:00am

As a freshman last year, I joined my peers in placing great significance on whom we should elect as our Student Assembly president. What great catastrophes or summits awaited a choice of Davies, Hildreth or Baehr? At the urging of an editorial by President Emeritus Janos Marton '04, I cast my vote behind Julia Hildreth '05. Marton's opinion that there were great things to be done which he had, in many ways, failed to do seemed to legitimize his charge that Hildreth could actually see these tasks to their completion. I was not concerned with what these things were, just that I was willing to give Hildreth a shot at proving that the Assembly had great works within its capacity. The reality of the last year has been informative.

The Assembly has proven itself to be an incredibly limited and, dare I say it, superficial organization. This is not to cast doubt on our elected classmen who spend countless hours on its various endeavors, but rather to hint at the reality of the Assembly's true power. The candidates last year made the position they sought look like the seat of a vast empire of potential for student improvement and change -- that it was merely waiting for the right mind.

We got some bikes which were promptly, no doubt, thrown off the bridge or ridden off a sweet jump; we have new BlitzMail computers for which I am eternally grateful; these are surrounded by a coterie of other small projects like celebratory $900 dinners for outstanding teachers. You should join me in sincerely thanking Julia and her organization for making these resources available to us, but they hardly live up to the sweeping potential that the candidates led us to believe we were entrusting them with.

The same self-presentation is developing in preparation for this year's Assembly presidential election. Not to single him out, but Noah Riner '06's ubiquitous posters are making promises which no Assembly president, no matter how dynamic he or she might be, could have any large say in. As an example, his poster leads with "Smaller Class Sizes." A noble goal, but how could Noah be any more than a representative to us, explaining the logistical considerations which keep this from becoming a reality of the immediate present, and maintaining a role as our spokesman when dealing with the College administration? This is, of course, a form of power, but would the election of any candidate truly bring the reality of smaller class sizes that much closer? There are clearly larger forces at work which dwarf the Assembly.

The presidential candidate who will have my vote this year will be the one who can articulate and respond to the vague conviction that every Dartmouth student has: that the Assembly is an organization of limited power. Rather than focusing on promises of vast projects which any intelligent Dartmouth student would be skeptical of, the candidates should focus on presenting the post they're after as it really is and should be: that of a representative. A representative, of course, who advocates the resolution of issues like the class size problem, but whose main task is to keep the student body informed as to the progress of issues from his or her unique perspective. I am frankly astounded at how rarely Hildreth writes editorials in The Dartmouth, her last one a "Welcome Back!" piece at the beginning of fall 2004 ("The Long Delay: Getting Ready for Fall Term," Sept. 10, 2004). Rather than look for a quote or two when the new BlitzMail terminals came out, she should be explaining to her "flock" the issue of class size, for example. With her supposedly good relationship with the administration, she could offer us a clearer view of the situation. What is the administration's true response? Are they trying to slide it under the rug? Are they making a concerted effort?

A candidate who maintains real ties with the student body will reap other incidental benefits. When the opportunity for Assembly projects come around, a president who publicly seeks student input would have the perspective to decide that throwing ten crappy bikes outside of Collis and "seeing what happens" would probably not be the best allocation of funds, while new BlitzMail terminals would be hailed as "totally freaking hot" from all students.

Everyone in the Assembly appears reluctant to admit the modest reality of its potential. The candidate who finally acknowledges and works within the limitations of the Assembly's power, but who maintains an actual relationship with the student body will be one vote stronger on the 20th.