Free advice to MSA president: Get good PR

by by Josh

Last Wednesday and Thursday, a rousing 3 percent of the campus elected Jigar Madia and Bridgette Murphy as the president and vice president of the Minnesota Student Association. Their posters, campaign promises and endorsements have gotten them elected. The big question, however, is whether or not this makes them students of any consequence during the 1997-98 academic year.
I have kept a close eye on the workings of MSA for the past three years, and I have seen many problems with it. Some suggested that I should run for office in MSA and attempt to do something about it. Sorry, folks, but I already have too much to do, and I am not one who enjoys stressing myself out quarter after quarter. Besides, I like to keep people’s images of me fairly positive. Being in MSA seems to have a negative effect on that from what I have seen.
On the other hand, I do want to see some effective leadership from the student leaders. I am not anti-MSA; I just feel that MSA is a very good idea that is being very poorly executed. So I want to share my observations of the past four years in hopes that they may be of help.
First off, you may have noticed that I talk about my observations during the last four years but have only been keeping a close eye on it for three. This is based on the fact that I never heard of MSA my freshman year until the elections rolled around. To this day, I still have no idea who was MSA president my freshman year. I wonder why I had not heard about this organization during freshman orientation. When I found out that MSA was an organization that claimed to represent the entire student body, yet could only muster a 4 percent voter turnout for its elections, I took on a negative view of MSA.
The next year is well-known by many as the year Homer Simpson took third place in the MSA presidential race, defeating two of the other four candidates. Homer’s platform was simply that MSA was a waste of time and money and should be abolished. I will proudly admit that I voted for Homer.
Then I started thinking about what this campus would be like with no student representation whatsoever. Aside from the fact that I would not have to spend any money on MSA, I decided that this was probably not a good option. Therefore, I decided that instead of being the simple cynic that I was at that point, I would try to find out what the problem with MSA was and try to let the candidates in the next election know about my discoveries. Although my input was not as utilized as I would have liked, this is what I have noticed:
First, let us look at MSA’s attempts to handle large issues. Every year, one or two candidates say that they are going to use the power of MSA to try to get tuition lowered or frozen. Small problem: When it comes to power, the MSA does not have any. The state government shakes off MSA like a bad case of fleas, and much of the reason is that MSA does not have the mandate from the masses that it requires for them to be taken seriously. When you cannot get 10 percent of the campus to care about your elections, it is hard for the those in higher positions to accept MSA as representatives of the campus.
MSA’s handling of smaller issues has an entirely different problem: They do accomplish things from time to time, but nobody knows that MSA is behind it. When you accomplish a task, but nobody cares enough to notice, then you have not really accomplished anything, and this is what past MSA administrations have failed to figure out. Therefore, MSA has to make sure that people notice the small, yet important things that they do. This will go a long way toward improving its image and getting people to care about what MSA does.
There are a lot of smaller issues that MSA can handle. One is the book exchange program proposed by John Ray during the 1996 campaign. The residence halls are attempting to implement it now, but it could be beneficial if extended campus-wide. Another issue is the proposal by Jigar Madia for reuniting the student sections at hockey games. Section 2, row 12, seat 3 is the last place I expected to be this year, and MSA has enough power that they can possibly influence this kind of decision. A third issue is the housing situation, as many students and residence hall staff members would like to see housing quit cramming four people into study lounges and making them live there for a quarter or more.
The key, however, is not that MSA tackles these issues, but that it does whatever it takes to make sure students know that MSA is responsible for whatever comes of it. One idea that I have had for the past two years that no one has caught on to is that the MSA president should have a weekly, or at least biweekly, column in the Daily. Put it right next to Network. The Daily is the most widely read publication of the University by a landslide, and a column would give the president a great audience for letting students know what their representatives are doing for them. If students know what their government does, they will be more interested. If they are more interested, they will want to make sure that their views will be well-represented, which would be in direct correlation to voter turnout. To complete the chain, the higher voter turnout might help in giving MSA that aforementioned mandate from the masses it needs to possibly have some influence on the larger issues
My message to you, Mr. Madia, is simple. Your goal for the 1997-98 academic year should be to get MSA noticed. Do not bite off more than you can chew. Tackle smaller issues and make sure that people know you are doing it. Make sure people know who you are. Most importantly, realize that this has to be a year-long project. If you succeed, you will build the power base that will let future MSA administrations succeed in places where past ones have tried and failed. Your sign of success may be a 15 or 20 percent voter turnout in 1998. Then, and only then, will you be of consequence. And most of all, good luck.

Josh Evans is a senior in the Institute of Technology.