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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Few Things Need To Be Pointed Out

In its October 11 Editorial, The Mass Media rings a note of cautious approval and optimism about the student senate’s appointment of 22 new senators. It also speculates as to why organizers of a town hall platform last semester-six of whom were elected-have not chosen to sit as senators, and blames this decision for the senate’s personnel shortage.

A few things need to be pointed out here. For one, this scenario of mass senatorial appointment has played out before, just last semester, and almost none of the new appointees continued attending beyond the first couple of meetings. But whether this problem recurs or not, during all of my years here, the Senate has been equally ineffectual and bungling regardless of its numbers. Its only really important function has been the activation and servicing of student clubs and centers-a function that it performs as poorly as is possible every year. Beyond this, it acts essentially as a secondary bureaucracy of the UMB administration, overseeing a budget and a set of procedures and rules students must observe in order to obtain services they are entitled to. What it emphatically is not, is an advocacy or organizing group, representing students more than governing them, and facilitating their actions more than acting-supposedly-on their behalf.

The Mass Media says that many of the new senators “profess to be interested in serving their student constituents,” but there is very clearly no relationship of constituency between the Senate and the student body. As a litmus test, imagine that some group wanted to get students involved in a project, or just wanted to reach students with a message or to get their feedback. Nobody with even a passing familiarity with UMB’s student government would ever approach the Senate to perform such functions, which it is no position to perform. A “constituency” and its representatives cannot be two ships passing in the night.

I’ve seen many senators come and go over the years, most of them generally good-willed and reform-minded-all of them skilled at photo ops-but none of them stepping outside of this bureaucratic framework. Although it would have been possible for those of us elected on a town hall platform last semester to remain on the senate and continue organizing as we always have, trying to make the campus a better place, it would require majority support to actually transform the senate into a genuine community organization.

We have no strong desire to serve as bureaucrats, and even though there are many bureaucratic functions that the Senate performs badly (e.g. club activation), we are also typical UMass students with very little free time and many demands on it. I think all of us felt that we would serve the school better as organizers than senators, given our inability to transform the senate into a platform for organizing and popular participation. So, when The Mass Media’s editors conclude that we “are no longer interested in reform [of student government],” in a way they are right: we’ve never been interested in student government. We’ve always wanted to find ways that working class students can overcome structural barriers to try and gain greater control over their community. Insofar as student government is unable to serve this function, it can simmer in its own juices.

A second broad issue needs to be aired. The Mass Media refers to the “inexplicable absence of a large number of legitimately elected senators,” but it seems incredible to me that any of the elections last semester-including my own-could be described as legitimate. The elections were carried out in violation of virtually every pertinent law on the books of the Senate Bylaws. I’ve detailed some of these violations in The Mass Media. The Senate did not notify students about upcoming nominations; paperwork was not available in time for those who did want to run; the nomination period was less than a third of its required duration. And once there was a sleight, the Senate announced the voting period incorrectly, then delayed voting for a week to hold debates-which it had neglected to schedule previously. For the first time, the Senate decided not to use voting booths in McCormack building, and also did not place computers in any public place specifically for voting. The web site at which students were supposed to vote had technical difficulties and went down for the first day of voting. However, even though the Senate is required to have three full days of voting, it decided not to extend the voting period by a day. In 1998, 1010 students voted in elections at UMB. The numbers for 1999 are apparently lost, but in 2000, 749 students voted. In this past election, 279 students voted … in a school of over 13,000 (about 2 percent).

The Senate’s Bylaws include a provision stating that during elections: “Any dispute concerning the election must be submitted in writing to the Student Election Coordinator within twenty-four (24) hours of any alleged infraction and is subject to arbitration by the Department of Student Life and the Steering Committee.” Within 24 hours of all of the above violations of elections protocol, I submitted a detailed written complaint to the Election Coordinator at the time. However, the Senate took no action of any sort on my complaints (there was certainly no arbitration of anything). The reason given to me by the Senate President was that I hadn’t specifically called for a new election in my complaint, so the Steering Committee and the Senate didn’t feel they needed to respond in any way! Imagine reporting a murder and getting no response from the police department since you didn’t detail what punishment you thought should be inflicted on the murderer, or how the case should be investigated. It would seem that the only way to maintain the Senate’s level of incompetence, is through practiced ineptness at correcting even its own problems (much less the school’s problems).

Ben Day

CAS ’02