MSA: A history of controversy, service

Tess Langfus

More than 40 years ago, 21-year-old engineering senior Jim Reeves received a phone call that changed University student government and led to a tumultuous “roller-coaster ride” for the next several generations.
Then-University President James Morrill, it seemed, wanted to “hand pick” students who would be good leaders for a new student government. Reeves apparently fit his description.
Reeves, a “farm boy” from Marshall, cared little about the student government, even though he served as president of his fraternity.
But when he and a few other students were asked to attend the National Student Association conference in 1959, Reeves agreed to go. Once at the conference, Reeves and the other students met with members of other university governments and were inspired to organize a sound government at the University.
“I could see that we were getting short-changed,” he recalled. The defunct All-University Congress, Reeves said, “had the reputation of being just a rebel-rousing bunch of hippies.”
Reeves remembered ineffective communication between the University administration and the Congress, and therefore few accomplishments were made.
He selected as his cohorts students who accompanied him to the conference, and won the title of first president of the Minnesota Student Association.
The new government under Reeves was responsible to the entire student body. The MSA identified, debated and voted on significant issues, then addressed them to the Board of Regents.
“As long as you made a reasonable justification for what you’re looking for, I thought (the Regents) were very responsive,” he said. “I still feel that is the way to do it.”
That was then, this is now
Current MSA President Matt Clark agrees.
While it has been argued by students, adversaries and even internal members that MSA has no voting power and no authority, Clark contends the student government does in fact have an influence with the administration.
“We tend to be more of a catalyst or more of a spark plug for the process,” he said.
Passing resolutions in the forum and presenting their stand on issues, Clark said, “has some clout” with University President Mark Yudof.
“I like working with President Yudof,” Clark said. “I see him as a great colleague.”
Besides meeting with Yudof and other administrative officials on students issues, MSA leaders attend the monthly Board of Regents meetings.
“I think (the Board of Regents) are always looking for student input so they have a real idea of how we are doing,” Clark said. “So if anything, I think we kind of motivate them to do a good job.”
Student Regent Jessica Phillips considers MSA an important facet to the overall University government, citing student involvement and open communication as vital to the decision-making process.
MSA’s adversaries
Not everyone has been happy with the role of MSA. In fact, in April 1974, the student government was shut down through an all-campus student vote.
MSA was resurrected in April 1980 as the primary student government on campus. But in May 1990, the graduate student body broke away from MSA, claiming they were at a numerical disadvantage and underrepresented in the student government.
As recent as last year during the elections, MSA was attacked as inefficient. Jared Christiansen and Mike Hass campaigned for MSA president and vice president, promising to shut down the organization if they were elected. But they came in third with less than 19 percent of the votes.
Student apathy
“MSA gets blamed for a lot of people’s apathy and it always has,” said Megan Thomas, a former CLA senator on MSA forum in the early 1990s. “This is just my opinion … that some people do have to take responsibility for knowing what’s going on in the world around them … democracy is not a spectator sport.”
But Dan Seppala, a third-year math student said he was grateful for the 10th Avenue Bridge Circulator — an MSA project — since he lives close to the route. He said he is satisfied with MSA “as long as they do things that are applicable to students.”
Clark said the U-Pass and the 10th Avenue Bridge Circulator are proof of the influence MSA has on campus.
“Our goal is to try to pick issues that are not just out there to students, but are rather in-your-face,” Clark said. “The best way to target apathy is to target issues that really count to students on a day-to-day basis.”
Tess Langfus welcomes comments at [email protected]