Monday, April 18, 2011

What government is for

Many of the students in my academic unit are in student government.  In fact, it's kind of nuts how large a preponderance of the Student Government Association is made up of the 2% of the student body that I teach.

Seen another way, though, it's not so surprising; we recruit and serve the most involved concentration of student leaders on campus.  Tonight I had a chance to watch them in action.  The student senate was taking up a resolution introduced by my senior seminar members, supporting permanent protection for the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve.  It's the penultimate step in the project we've been pursuing all semester long, the political follow-up to the media event we mounted last Thursday.

Listening to three solid hours of reports, debates, and parliamentary procedure, I was reminded of what student government is usually tasked with doing.  People come to them asking for money, or for their blessing in the spending or collecting of student money.  The other big agenda items tonight were a resolution to support the administration's proposed tuition increase, and the approval of the distribution of student activity funds (notably to a fraternity appealing the decision to deny them funding for a pig roast off-campus).

We came to student government looking for leadership, not money.  And although the vote ended up closely divided, for a solid hour the elected students debated exactly that.  How to show leadership when it comes to preserving campus resources on the one hand, or preserving facilities options on the other?  How to show leadership when thinking about recommending a commitment not just for our lifetimes, but for generations to come?  How to show leadership when petitioned by thousands of community members, attempting both to represent their wishes but also exercise independent and informed judgment about the common good?

I'm thrilled that the result came out in our favor; I believe the senators made the right decision and that their resolution, along with the demonstrated commitment of so many project supporters, will prompt the Board of Trustees to think differently about the issue.  But even more than that, I'm glad that these governing students had an opportunity to think, talk, argue, and commit themselves to an exercise of leadership, and accompanying personal ideals and visions for their individual roles, that don't often arise in their line of work.

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