After one quarter,

Sean Madigan

Infighting and apathy continue to plague the Minnesota Student Association, but members are optimistic for the coming quarter.
As her first quarter in office draws to a close, president Nikki Kubista said MSA has made some gains and said she looks forward to next quarter.
“We laid a good foundation. Now it is time for us to roll up our sleeves and do the work,” Kubista said.
Representing the University’s undergraduate voice to the Board of Regents, MSA acts only as a consultative body. It is difficult to chart the effectiveness of the administration because, ultimately, the regents make most of the decisions about issues MSA brings up.
“MSA is different than traditional student government in that it can’t pass binding legislation,” said last year’s president Jigar Madia. “They serve as chief advocates and get in students’ faces to find out what they want, then lobby the administration.”
What have they done?
MSA has seen little progress in implementing its three major initiatives: improving housing, limiting tuition increases and implementing affirmative action awareness.
The association failed on its effort to keep tuition low, the first initiative the association addressed. They demanded tuition be kept to the rate of inflation, 2 percent, but the board authorized a 3 percent hike.
Last spring, MSA organized a petition against the proposed tuition hike by sending hundreds of student signatures on Ramen noodle wrapping.
“Student government always fights this losing battle and this year is no exception,” Kubista explained.
However, while the regents were impressed by Kubista and vice president Erin Ferguson’s creativity, the tuition hike went ahead as planned, said Regent Jessica Phillips.
“We understand that students don’t have a lot of money and we consider this when we are planning things like the construction of a new dorm,” Phillips said.
MSA also acts as a consultative voice to the regents, who are often open to the association’s ideas. “When an agenda item and resolution is brought to us, it is moot because we are usually all in agreement, except for tuition,” Phillips said.
Beyond MSA’s annual bout with the regents over tuition increases, the association has not formally addressed its remaining two initiatives, with the exception of creating a committee to investigate housing issues. An ad hoc committee on housing was formed this fall, but no action has been taken yet.
However, MSA members consider several programs and events outside of their initiatives to have been successful.
MSA sponsored “Meet the candidates week” earlier this month, which included a debate between the candidates running for the 59B state House of Representatives seat.
Also this month, MSA and 15 other campus organizations co-sponsored a discussion on free speech in reaction to the student fees lawsuit against the University. MSA, like many of the other organizations in attendance at the event, receives $165,000 — the bulk of their funding — from the student fees committee. Throughout the quarter Kubista advocated coalition-forming among campus groups to strengthen the student voice.
Gauging effectiveness
Each MSA administration has only one year to accomplish all of its initiatives. With vague goals such as affirmative action and housing rights, seeing evidence of change in just one year is unlikely. Administrations would have to work off the platforms of past administrations to break real ground; traditionally this has not happened.
It is very hard to gauge how closely MSA has stuck to its agenda, Madia said.
“Last year our administration had tangible set goals it set out to achieve. This year their administration has a more theoretical approach,” Madia said.
Tuition, housing and affirmative action initiatives are worthy causes but lack focus, Madia said. Madia’s administration developed a 12-point action plan they wanted to see implemented throughout the year, a strategy Madia said allows students to chart the associations success.
Kubista’s approach to serving students is very different.
“We set very large goals, which is a little more difficult for getting tangible results,” Kubista said. Kubista believes the role of student government is to provide students with information and an organized voice.
“I look at student government as a triangle upside down, where the students are at the top. We act as conduits for information,” Kubista explained. She said setting large goals will open up a dialogue for students while setting small goals might alienate certain groups and interests.
Fighting infighting
MSA’s forum has a bad reputation within its membership and in the press. In its last two sessions, forum members spent the bulk of the time haggling over attendance issues. Seven members were recently removed for missing more than one of the association’s forums or committee meetings.
Speaker Ben Bowman sees attendance at MSA functions an integral part of being a representative.
“I’m a representative for the Carlson School of Management. If I miss a meeting, that’s 1,500 (students) who don’t have a voice,” Bowman said.
When Jessica Powell first came in contact with MSA in 1996, the fall of her freshman year, she was eager to get involved with student government at the college level. But she soon lost interest because of the organization’s inability to follow through on initiatives, she said.
Powell and about 25 of her peers became members of Prospective Leaders Among New Students, an organization designed to get new students involved on campus, specifically MSA.
“They didn’t do anything except talk about doing things,” she said.
Katie Dudley left MSA in frustration. A former University senator and MSA representative, Dudley became disenchanted with the organization because of the amount of petty politicking and partisan infighting at their forum meetings.
“It felt like forum as a whole didn’t really care about the students, but rather its own political agenda,” Dudley said.
“Ninety percent of what MSA does happens outside of forum,” Madia said. “In forum every year, there are about 20 people that do 90 percent of the work. But those people really do make it happen.”
Kubista agrees and said she tries to get people involved in other areas, namely committees.
“Forum is the worst place to recruit new students and the worst place for press,” Kubista said.