Fight for Autonomy and Why it Matters

Last week’s ASMSU senate meeting was concluded by Senator Michael Ngyugen offering the assembly a quote by Abraham Lincoln. He said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

I don’t want to speak for Senator Nygugen’s intentions with this quote, but it has stuck with me the past week as the repercussions and reactions from ASMSU’s organizational structure changes have come to light. (For complete coverage, see page 3.)

The reactions from the Senate have ranged from calls for impeachment, to accusations of law breaking, emotional outbursts and overall confusion as ASMSU attempts to cope with changes that saw one classified staff employee laid off and the ASMSU attorney position abolished.

Whether these changes are beneficial for students, it’s too soon to say, and probably inappropriate to postulate.

The outrage may seem to mostly make a compelling argument that both unilateral executive action and group legislative action are completely useless in the context of student government. However, the events of last week’s senate meeting and these structural changes should matter to every student, despite the changes being a mostly internal matter.

Let’s be absolutely clear:  Student government at MSU does hold a lot of power, including the right to allocate more than a $1 million in student fees. Not the least of this power, however, is the symbolic ability to speak on behalf of over 15,000 students. When the ASMSU Senate formally supports an initiative, they are not only signing their own 21 names in support, but they also are expressing that the students of MSU as a whole support or ought to support the initiative.

Beyond signing names on resolutions, these students represent to fellow students, faculty, administration, Board of Regents and the public how students govern themselves and demand to be treated. That’s a responsibility that should be taken seriously by both the students elected and those they represent.

Yet if you ask the average student, I’m not sure they would say that ASMSU matters to them.

Though the services and programs ASMSU provides — from Streamline bus service to KGLT, daycare and the Procrastinator theater  — are used by students on a daily basis, the outward face of ASMSU is too often only barbecues, concerts and spirit events.

Even worse than this convivial face would be the portrayal of the organization as only a vehicle for student internal arguing and bickering, instead of meaningful legislative action. But with each snarky remark delivered in the heat of a senate debate, we risk slipping into that stereotype.

No doubt the intentions of each senator and ASMSU member are good. The one thing that has been repeated over and over to me this week is that the best interest of the students are in mind. But the danger is when the people in these positions choose to ignore others’ opinions under the guise of protecting students from themselves. This not only fundamentally against the idea of self-governance, but it defeats the purpose of it all together.

Beyond being a place for students to interact with the administration, ASMSU is fundamentally a place for us students to interact between ourselves. If we don’t hold ourselves and our leaders accountable for the responsibility of their positions, no one will. Instead the opportunity ASMSU has to work together and move forward as a relevant organization will slip away.

Next year’s new executive team and senate will be sworn-in at tonight’s meeting, and no doubt it will be a baptism by fire through the confusion of this week’s events. But with so many new faces, the opportunity for meaningful change is present. After all, student government is the one time where students have a direct connection to the administration and get a say in the political action taken in our name.