Thursday, April 27, 2006

Erick's Final Post

I feel silly responding to an anonymous hostile comment (the words "man up" come to mind), but I may as well take the opportunity to slap one more post up here.

The reason Student Government failed: only two of its six members truly believed in the idea of revolution. It was clear to me almost from the beginning that aside from Steve and myself, no one wanted to put forth the effort to make this thing happen. In hindsight, one could make the case that the majority of the group was using SG as a grandstanding tactic to further its ambitions within ASM. (Indeed, at least one writer for the Badger Herald is writing exactly that.)

But should the ending of this admittedly short lived movement be to the shame of those involved, and does its sudden crumbling reflect the dedication of those few of us who came together to try to change the campus for the better? Not really. Do Lapidus, Schulz, and Grosskopf believe that ASM direly needs change as they have claimed, and are they dedicated to shaking things up for the good of the students (as opposed to doing so just to get their names in the papers)? After many brainstorming and debating sessions with the lot of them, I do believe the answer is yes—indeed, of that I have no doubt.

At the same time, I remain of the opinion that any attempt at "reform from within" is fundamentally misguided. ASM needs a complete and total overhaul, and this is why.

A body of college students governing, in some sense, other students should have the ability to excite its constituents about its existence. Yet the demand for parkas in Hell will surge the day five randomly selected UW students can produce among them just one coherent response on what ASM actually does for the campus. In my time here, I've heard no positive things said of ASM outside of my acquaintances that have some direct stake in its existence--which suggests to me that its approval rating at any given time probably sits somewhere left of 1%.

In any case, I'll be here for two more years. If at some point a group of reasonable size is serious about shaking this dysfunctional system up, let me know.

In the meantime, however, I have more pressing things to worry about than the $150 of my pocket change ASM has the power allocate every year, and so do you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

ASM dropping like a rock

This is an interesting catch: ASM is the second-most removed group or organization from Facebook profiles lately. Go figure.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Student Government can DoIT

Student Government laid the first three planks of its revolutionary platform today in the Badger Herald:
Student Government wants your input
Read, and please comment. That's what we're here for.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

“Not far -- Yoda not far. Patience, soon you will be with him!”

We’re channeling our energy into having productive strategy and writing sessions –- Student Government is getting down to business. Posting over the weekend will continue to be slow. We plan to enter the coming week with strength; on Monday you'll see [greatly anticipated] constructive content and ingenuity, and a game plan for what's left of the semester.

I have one request for those of you who seem to be used to Madison student politics traveling at light speed: patience. A blog is suspected dead when there hasn’t been a post in a day and a half? A "government" is based solely on pointing out the failures of its predecessor... when the committee to form it has only been together for nine days? “No lasting changes can be engineering so rapidly”, Mr. Riechers at the DC points out. Haste makes waste –- a thing Student Government is bitterly opposed to making. We will hustle in these last few weeks, but remember what this process needs to be based on: massive input. To be sure, the members of Student Government will to bring plenty to the table, but our own convictions should be –- and will be –- only half the story. And gathering input from a student body of some twenty odd thousand students takes time.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Today's newslinks on the election fiasco

Commission cancels ASM elections again (BH News)

In-Depth: The evolution of student government? (BH News)

Just can’t DoIT (BH Opinion)

ASM: Vote early, vote often (BH Opinion)

Computer woes delay ASM elections again (DC News)

Several allege wrongdoing in ASM elections (DC News)

Responses to come later in the day - Erick signing off..

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

ASM Spring Elections Cancelled for the SECOND Time!

The SEC cancelled ASM's spring elections for the second time tonight during an emergency meeting at the Red Gym. Further DoIT failure is being cited as the cause of cancellation. For the most recent coverage check out Brad Vogel's live posts over at Letters in Bottles.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Technological Innovation for Representation

Student Government is planning a cross-campus series of listening sessions that will serve as a starting point for writing UW-Madison’s next student government constitution. Of course, open forums are not gatherings meant to facilitate massive participation in the actual drafting process. Since the major tenet of this movement is that our student body direly needs a more participatory and transparent form of representation, it makes sense that we should push to directly include as many students as we can in this process. (It’s also the case that doing so would increase Student Government’s chance of success on its first try.) Online forums provide an easy way to allow for this type of participation.

The vision for online constitution construction goes something like this. Student Government puts up an online forum. What type of discussion board to use is the first issue to address; things to consider include consider cost, building and maintenance time, ease of moderation, and user-friendliness. Some examples of the major types of discussion boards are these (the obvious favorite), this (a mess, though it gets the job done), or the nerd standard (kidding); we could even use facebook’s message boards. I don’t have figures for cost and construction and maintenance time on-hand, but am sure suitable free software exists.

The next step is to post each article of the constitution's working draft to its own discussion board topic with a designated moderator. The structure of the whole forum is made to resemble that of the constitution itself. Whoever is responsible for moderating a topic redrafts and reposts the corresponding article after a sufficient amount of discussion has gone on, and the cycle continues until the participants reach some degree of mutual satisfaction. Deadlines are set to ensure the articles come together in a timely fashion.

I recognize at least one large pitfall in this method. I’ve had the chance to present this idea to a few people since first mulling it over with Steve on Sunday, but one individual's response struck me in particular: in order to use online forums as the constitution’s discussion venue, contributors have to spend an inordinate amount of time at their computers, constantly monitoring those parts in which they are vested. I was shocked to discover not everyone spends as much time as I do hunched over a computer; this is, however, a real issue.

In any case, Student Government should make it a major goal to effectively employ technology where and when it can in serving the student body. Let’s not just knock ASM for not having any real online presence; let’s go above and beyond to ensure there exists yet another option for direct participation. Suggestions or counterproposals to my specifics are welcome and desired.

Monday, April 03, 2006

New Student Government Must be Anti-Authoritarian

With ASM focusing their time on friviously spending your SEG fees, Transgendered Bathroom Campaigns, and promoting impractical diversity initatives, the puppets up on the 5th floor have failed to do one of their essential duties: Keep the administration off the students backs!!

We continue to see Wiley and Co. up on Bascom infringe upon student's rights within the dorms and on this campus. The most blatant misuse of UW's power was the Parental Notification Policy:

But a new UW policy is reminding those who misuse their newfound freedoms that Mom and Dad are just a phone call away. The policy — formally enacted by Chancellor John Wiley Wednesday — provides a routine procedure for the parents of at-risk undergrads under the age of 21 to be notified of their son’s or daughter’s unacceptable activities....Berquam, who will oversee much of the parent-university correspondence, said students at UW — especially underage drinkers — must be held accountable for their actions.

ASM should have immediately denounced this policy last fall. I believe that Andy Gordon was the only one to even mention that ASM should take action. Nothing was done. I think the student body understands that since 99.9% of us are 18 years old, we are adults and the law serves as a just punishment. Calling our parents like nannies is ridiculous and should have been immediately denounced and protested by the ASM student government.

Recently my friend Rob of the ACLU worked to change UW Housing's harassment policy that clearly violated free speech. ASM was nowhere to be found. Why go through an organization that sees UW's Administration, Housing, and other bureaucracies as strong and model institutions rather than the bloated, discriminatory, and inefficient institutions that truly exist? Why didn't the student government catch these poor housing policies in the first place and why didn't the ASM Student Council at least publicly praise the ACLU on working to fight injustice?

Also, why hasn't ASM taken any action against UHS and their support for PACE, an organization that clearly does not fit the agenda of students and is a waste of resources. This organization's whose main goal is to cut down on binge drinking on campus, is undeniably out of place on our party driven campus. While it's of my opinion, that binge-drinking is out of control here on campus and that students should find other ways to have fun and socialize, it is not the government's job to be infringing upon the parties of students and local businesses that sell alcohol. If we are going to fund UHS through our SEG fees, shouldn't the student body withhold funds to UHS or at the very least denounce this institution's ties.

The Student Government should make fighting the Administration, Housing, UHS, and other institution's policies a key component of the government. ASM is worthless and would rather patronize the University than fight their discriminatory actions and worthless bureaucracies. Any government can do better than ASM in its current shape and form. Also, with The Student Government planning on not having professional staff, deriding the university will be easier. We can put the University of Wisconsin in its place, but clearly not through ASM.

Did you notice?

As the Daily Cardinal runs our manifest, Badger Herald's Editorial page today twice referenced Student Government. The Ed Board calls us the new hope and Brad Vogel knows we can succeed.

The Ed Board piece deserves a closer look, because it has a lot of good stuff in it:
On the question of allocable segregated fees, the Student Government ought not seek to play the role of taxman. Rather, the legal intricacies of a process that has been riddled with corruption should be handled in the most basic of manners, with a simple “opt-in” system.

There is a healthy debate right now among Constitutional Convention members about how to best deal with student fees. Some have suggested simply tightening the rules and laying out a strict philosophy for the disbursal of segregated fees. Others have suggested, variously, an opt-in or opt-out solution. Personally, I would like to see a cap on disbursal - with a student-wide referndum held any time the Student Government wants to give out money above that cap.
[T]he new Student Government ought to prove truly accessible to all on campus. This means uploading proposed and actual student-organization budgets to a publicly accessible website and offering the student body full access to all government-related documents through the same website. Freedom of Information Act requests should not be a procedural barrier to the free flow of information, as sunshine truly is the best of disinfectants.

The blog is a step. Listening sessions are another step.

Looking through ASM's website, it is impossible to even file a Freedom of Information Request. Budgets also need to be online and searchable - a step I told the Herald on Friday I'd like to see taken.
[A] basic governmental council meant to facilitate shared governance and a small judicial board to present a much-needed check on power ought to constitute the entirety of the new Student Government.

One of Student Government's main planks has always been the reduction of ASM's bloated bureaucracy and a streamlining of committees. We'd like to see the new government pared down as much as possible. How that will ultimately happen will be a product of our listening sessions.

So ultimately, the Herald's piece served as an agreement with our basic principles:
And so our vision is a simple one: a small student government with limited powers checked by a large student body.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Opiate of the Masses: You say you want a revolution?

Has ASM ever been a rock band?

I think not.

More outside support

James Wigderson has some interesting thoughts on student government and reform in general:
The year before I started at UW-Milwaukee, the student government there re-wrote the constitution. We made some radical changes while I was a student there, including allowing students to designate where their student fees should go. Right after I left, I believe student government changed the constitution again and impeached the student court.

During that period, students were getting paid thousands of dollars to serve in student government and other student activities. One student actually sat on the student government body that allocated fees to his student activity organization that paid him a salary. When that wasn't enough graft, he started a student publication, became it's advertising manager, had the student government body allocate money to start the student publication, had the student government body buy ads in the publication, paid himself a commission from those ads, had his student activity organization buy ads in his new publication, received a commission from those ads, and received a salary from the student government body, the student activity organization and the student publication. The story was he was reluctant to graduate because he would have to take a pay cut.

If you read the whole thing (which you should!), he's a bit less optimistic than we are about the prospects for lasting change, especially after his experiences at Milwaukee.

When Student Government has been an institution at the UW for 10 years, it may be that things will return to something resembling the status quo at the moment. But even if this is just a short break from the ineptitude of ASM, it is worth it.

The right precedent, at least, is being set.

A great note

Matt Modell was the champion of the reform movement in ASM for years. He fought a long, hard fight, and was eventually unsuccessful. He may have been the ASM equivalent of Obi Wan Kenobi - "out last hope" - just like Obi Wan, Darth Vader offed him.

But I was elated to get this e-mail from him the other day:
Someone forwarded me your column from Friday. It certainly appears as though you are facing many of the challenges I once faced (and almost faced once again, had I chosen UW for law school next year). I wish you the best of luck, you are definitely facing some difficult challenges but changes will never happen unless someone is willing to speak up and take heat from the left (and sometimes the right).

ASM behind the ball, again

Even on little things, ASM is laughably ineffective. Thanks to one of our commenters, I notice that ASM has started trying to blog again. They'd made a sad attempt almost a month ago, and then promptly forgot about a tool that could have kept them in much better contact with the students.

So let's take a look at what Eric Varney has to say:
As I sit here writing from the fifth floor of the Memorial Union--overlooking beautiful Langdon Street and a facade of the State Historical Society--I ponder what facet of ASM I should share with the public.

I guess he didn't realize that he shouldn't have to ponder what facet of ASM to share. The correct answer is: we'll share every facet with all of you, all the time. That's Student Government's position.

He mentions the textbook exchange, which he claims is ready for the end of August. The thing is, that's been in the works for probably a few years now. Thanks for the inefficiency Eric, but we can do better. Even when ASM did push for something useful, it's bureaucracy only allowed progress at glacially slow speeds. Why not have a government that can get things done in a timely manner?

Then there's this:
Student Council has been meeting regularly to decide on important issues such as budgets and resolutions. Recently, Student Council debated and passed various resolutions to support keeping the Unions open at Halloween and denounce educational budget cuts by Congress. Additionally, all segregated fee budgets from SSFC were approved by Student Council and forwarded to Chancellor Wiley. We anticipate his response and look forward to working with the budgets further to ensure we, the students and administration, are in agreement on various issues.

Right about now you're probably thinking I'm going to sidestep the elections landmine and not say anything about it. I just wanted to whet your appetite first with some other student power glory.

If "student power glory" consists of petty bureaucratic wrangling and wasting student fees on exorbitantly expensive student groups, I'll take something else, please. Perhaps... Student Government glory.

That's fine, though. Eric wants to defend the system. Sadly, he doesn't see how broken and corrupt the system is. But those who do see the future: Student Government.