Verbum Ultimum: Saving the Assembly

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/10/14 6:12pm

A few chalk campaign ads adorning campus sidewalks, vague promises to unify campus and pledges to address specific student demands — it’s election season. And we’re not convinced.

Historically, The Dartmouth’s editorial board has used this space to endorse a candidate. Year after year, the editorial includes a laundry list of reservations with the Assembly. We’ve looked back at these editorials, and the problems remain.

This year, we’d rather use the space to address deeper issues with the system. As the Student Assembly election looms on the horizon, we urge students to reconsider the organization’s role and ask themselves if this is the governing body they need. Debates are hardly attended, and voter turnout has consistently been low. This year, three Class Council candidates are running uncontested, and 28 out of 38 spots, including 27 positions for class representatives, have zero candidates. The elections usually end up bestowing power — how much power is unclear — on candidates before they fully understand their roles.

As the Assembly’s influence has declined, we have seen many successful grassroots movements flourish at Dartmouth in the past few years, leading us to question where the Assembly fits in — or whether we need it at all.

At its core, student government has an important purpose: communicating students’ grievances and desires to the administration. Ideally, student government acts as a filter, measuring, evaluating and then relaying student opinion. Does our Assembly play this role? Or do we need it to, considering our relatively accessible administration?

Thanks to Improve Dartmouth, any student can post a question or suggestion online and be answered quickly and publicly by the proper administrator. With this easier to navigate and more democratic advance, Student Assembly is no longer as necessary.

We appreciate Assembly members and the work they do, but we also recognize the organization’s limitations. Expending time and resources on the current Student Assembly program seems misguided at best and counterproductive at worst. We need to replace the current infrastructure and emphasize outcome-oriented actions or consider removing the system altogether.

We propose a more effective system that resembles Palaeopitus senior society, in which the student body president would oversee an elected body of 12 campus leaders from any organization or community who wished to propose a candidate. Assembly representatives could then serve as moderators in more accessible and publicized conversations between students and administrators. Instead of filling positions with the sole competitor or not being able to fill positions at all, this congress of student leaders could replace the Assembly entirely and become the functional governing unit of the student body.

Student Assembly, in its current form, cannot stand. We implore the winners of Monday’s election to spearhead real change. This organization is broken. Overhauling the system is the only way forward.