New leaders should work for a new MSA

Ben Bowman and Matt Clark, the new leaders of the Minnesota Student Association, as part of their platform, argued that our student government needs some serious structural changes. MSA does not have respect or support from most students. MSA leaders have attempted for some time to solve this problem, alternately placing blame on student apathy and inter-MSA bickering. However, in order for the problem to be adequately addressed, let alone solved, concrete changes must be made to student government.
As of now, two seats in the MSA Forum go to each student cultural center — a total of 14. The remaining 14 “at-large” seats are doled out to the rest of the campus. The fact that both MSA and the majority of the student cultural centers are housed in Coffman Union isolates them from the rest of campus. Moreover, since only half of the Forum’s seats are allocated to the student body “at-large”, this problem of isolation increases.
Most candidates focused on the fees-selection process as the area in most need of reform. But the problems lie deeper than this. The problem is no one cares about student government, and MSA, as it stands, is powerless to reverse this sentiment. Although dissolving MSA seems like an extreme idea, no plausible alternative has been offered.
The idea of dissolving the student association is not new. In the late 1970s the undergraduate student body voted MSA out of existence, and student government was nearly nonexistent into the early 1980s. The problem with eradicating student government, however, is the lack of a sufficiently strong successor. It is essential we maintain a representative voice for all students on campus. If such a voice is lost, the University administration and the Board of Regents would be able to act without any input from or accountability to students.
Jared Christiansen, one of the candidates for MSA president this year, believes University President Mark Yudof would step in and help students build a better government if MSA were disbanded. Christiansen’s desire to dissolve MSA without first preparing a plan for a replacement exhibits the popular sentiment that no government is better than bad government. Unfortunately, with MSA goes our only, albeit feeble, voice at the University.
If Bowman and Clark desire a respected and remembered tenure, they will heed the warnings and find a way to restructure MSA so representation is decentralized and visible and there is no extended period without some student representation. Perhaps instead of campaigning behind played-out issues such as the U-Pass and the 10th Avenue Bridge Circulator, the new MSA government can make reform a priority. This could include reform of the election process, reforming how seats are allocated and reform of the constitution of the University.
The student association must bring itself out of this quagmire of disrespect and disregard. Only through changes to the structure can this happen. MSA’s power will never be that of a true governing body, but perhaps with greater visibility, transparency and accountability, the organization can regain some respect. Hopefully, the Minnesota Student Association’s new leaders will make an effort toward earning respect, for respect translates quite easily into power.