Student Association is effective tool

by By Jesse

The need for student governance isn’t just a need for representation, but also a symbol of the power of students choosing how they want to be represented.
On any college campus, it is imperative for student governance to exist, however, that government must be run by students and for students. The Minnesota Student Association closely fills this need for the undergraduates on the Twin Cities campus, and its existence is paramount to progress on student concerns.
As the primary body of governance for the student body, MSA must be representative of the student body. This is of constant concern to the organizations and the student body, as addressed in a variety of ways. In All-Campus-Elections coming up during spring quarter, all members of the student body are eligible to run for office, either as a senator to represent his or her college of enrollment, or in at-large seat on the MSA Forum.
Student government allows all students to pursue issues of concern on campus, making sure the student voice exists and providing a focal point for action to occur. Over the last year, issues such as campus transportation, voter registration and professor evaluations have been of primary concern in the organization.
Of course, the highly controversial, divisive issues such as Margaret Sanger’s picture or the California table grape boycott, which attract headlines and disgust of the student body, come up occasionally, but they are far from the norm, and certainly not the only type of issues. Unfortunately, partisanship, a driving force for these types of issues, runs rampant, preventing progress in many respects, as a win-lose attitude abounds the forum meetings.
The organization fosters young leaders, giving them a place to grow. Students involved in student government learn from their experiences, and many great leaders have come out of MSA to use the skills gained for civic, business and management advancement. Our leaders’ knowledge about University issues is astounding, and the student body should be proud to have such energetic, intelligent leaders representing them.
MSA is the primary student-run undergraduate campus governance organization that has the clout necessary to influence the faculty, regents and administration. While the University Senate serves as a pathway for students to forward issues, the shared-governance between the students and faculty weakens our voice.
The vulnerability of the senate is apparent with the proposed faculty unionization. There may not be much of a student role in collective bargaining, and if students lose power in the senate, MSA must pick up the slack to ensure a student voice in the future.
While the necessity for student government exists, the current form is far from perfect, as is evident with the clear disapproval broadcast by the press and the student body. MSA may present concrete progress in the work done at the state capitol or in dealing with the Board of Regents, but in dealing with the student body as a whole, the organization must continue a policy of outreach in any way possible.
The fact that the student body fails to realize what we are doing beyond Margaret Sanger, or even what the acronym MSA stands for is a sure sign that more needs to be done in the area of outreach. While it may be easy for members to get caught up in the larger issues such as busing or tenure, when it comes to the less glamorous task of letting the student body know what we are doing, that we are indeed addressing their issues, improvement is needed.
Along the same lines, accountability must constantly be remembered as the driving force for the organization. With the culmination of any project, or the allotment of any amount of money, MSA’s purpose should always rest for the betterment of the student body. Yet with partisan politics and a wall-like status-quo, accountability is often ignored, and a need for change goes unheard. With a large organization like MSA it is easy to forget that our very existence depends on the students that it serves.
The issues of outreach and accountability can be addressed in a simple fashion, but it takes a willingness and commitment from everyone in the organization, and from those we represent. With this commitment present, the perception could change and MSA would be thought of as a tool for students use, responsive to their issues and opinions.
Overall, the existence of MSA is much-needed aspect of the University. A student-run representative body must exist if students are to have role in the decision-making process on campus. However, if the organization is to persist, it must challenge itself, not only to look externally of the betterment of the student body, but also to look internally, at how we all can better serve students.
Jesse Berglund is an MSA representative.