If students vote against a candidate for SA Congress, the person usually winds up representing them anyway. It is easy to become a member of ACU’s student government, especially since most of the delegates are appointed to their positions.
This situation may be the root to the haphazard and indifferent relationship between Congress and the student body.
In this year’s Congressional Election, where only five of the 13 races were contested, students cast 407 ballots. So about 8 percent of the student body voted. With such a disregard for the democratic process, we really have no right to complain about the lack of true representation on Congress, but it definitely is lacking.
How many students actually know their delegates or understand the important role of student government at ACU?
Sarah Pulis, vice president of SA Congress, said last semester in an Optimist interview the benefit of Congress to the ACU community is that it acts as a voice for students to correspond with the administration and ensure their views on various issues are known.
Well, a successful SA president once wrote, “Regardless of how much Congress may try to represent you, it will never happen unless we are participating in a discussion.”
Matt Worthington, president of the 2007-08 SA Congress, wrote those words in a column for the Feb. 22, 2008 issue of the Optimist. He wanted us, as the student body, to understand we need to participate in the student government process as much as our elected representatives, whether by voting in elections, participating in discussions at Congress’ weekly meetings or tramping down to the SA office in the Campus Center’s basement for a face-to-face conversation with the executive officers.
Of course, while some students may take the initiative to go to Congress, it is not enough. Congress also needs to actively seek out the students it represents and ensure it is best representing them.
The power of student government lies in the will of its constituents. When our representatives do not actively inform us or make themselves available to us, they are not representing us. They are representing their own agendas, their own student organizations and their own interests. This attitude is unforgivable in our leaders, but still understandable in light of a growing trend: apathy toward SA Congress.
The 2008-09 SA Congress has 44 members. Of these delegates, the student body only elected 21 representatives; 23 – more than half – were appointed to their positions.
Sophomore Sen. Tony Godfrey, who himself was appointed to Congress, explained the idea behind the high appointment numbers.
“A filled seat is better than an empty seat,” he said in the Jan. 23 issue of the Optimist.
With this philosophy in mind, SA President Daniel Paul Watkins’ statement in the Sept. 12, 2008 issue of the Optimist makes somewhat more sense.
He said although not everyone won in the Congressional Elections, some, if not all, of the students who ran for an office would be appointed to a seat, so they still could serve on the SA Congress.
A vote is a voice for students. It is a mandate given to Congress, but when our votes stop deciding who represents us, our voices are silenced.
The Congressional Election was not the beginning for ACU students’ apathy toward their SA government.
The Executive Officers Election for this year’s president, vice president and treasurer only had one contested race. Ironically, this barely democratic election was more important that usual from a student’s perspective because the winners received a larger scholarship than normal. The executive officer scholarship amount, which is determined in relation to the price of tuition, increased when tuition also increased. The officer scholarships come from the SA budget, which derives from a $35-per-student portion of the $75 student activity fee. Essentially, students pay the SA Congress executive officers to represent them, and this year we gave them a pay increase. So why did only 874 students vote in such a significant election?
This low voter participation, while disturbing, is not new:
* 2007-08 Executive Officer Elections: 1,307 ballots cast.
* 2006-07 Executive Officer Elections: 1,310 ballots cast.
* 2005-06 Executive Officer Elections: about 1,000 ballots cast.
All three SA congresses had almost 30 positions vacant after their Congressional Elections, requiring more appointments to fill the seats. Massive numbers of appointments to SA endanger Congress’ mindset if these students feel less accountable to their constituents.
Our representatives’ responsibilities are a double-edged sword because they cannot actively chase down every constituent for a personal talk. If we want our student government to represent us and not its own members, we need to meet our delegates half way. We need to vote, talk to our representatives, attend Congress meetings and participate in the discussion process. And for the more civic-minded student, remember, Congress still has five vacant positions this year if you are looking for an easy appointment.