Misguided ASG: stick to campus

Libby Nelson

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Associated Student Government tries to be formal. Political. Formidable.

They dress up. They say “aye.” They adhere strictly to Robert’s Rules of Order, that bible of parliamentary procedure requiring them to call out “Point of order!” and “Previous question!” They use the word “rescind” more times in a day than most Northwestern students do in a year.

Still, only so much reverence can be conferred on intercampus shuttle routes or the merits of replacing classroom maps with globes.

Maybe it is in search of this senatorial gravitas that ASG members quit considering issues affecting students and turned their attention off campus.

Whatever the reasons, using ASG as a forum to argue about the Jena Six, as senators did last week, or the war in Iraq, as they did in 2003 and 2007, is a colossal waste of time.

Criticism of ASG – that the organization is self-important, ineffective and irrelevant – is tired, brought up as frequently as senators introduce new bills. And making grand pronouncements about the state of national affairs doesn’t make ASG seem bold or intelligent or more worthy of respect.

It makes them look self-aggrandizing, egotistical and full of hot air.

The problem is not just that these resolutions are non-binding (normal for ASG bills). In most cases, all senators can do is come together in favor of a decision and hope that administrators listen to their opinion. That doesn’t always influence university policy. (If you need proof, try going out a side door in most residence halls.)

Nor is it out of place to issue a statement of senators’ opinions. In 2006, ASG unanimously passed a resolution condemning McCormick Prof. Arthur Butz’s comments denying the existence of the Holocaust. The resolution didn’t call for the university to fire Butz or to repress his views. At the time, senators said they wanted to make a statement that Butz’s opinions were not representative of NU students and faculty.

Fine. Presumably, someone might care about NU student government opinion on an NU issue. Senators recognized the limits of their power and refrained from calling for actions they couldn’t influence or enforce.

As someone who sat through about 56 hours of ASG meetings as a reporter, I can’t stop thinking about better uses for the time they spent debating the Jena Six.

ASG is a flawed organization, and it’s difficult for senators to effect genuine change. But they still can make a difference on campus, often through the little things.

In small groups earlier this month, senators discussed lobbying the university to allow political groups more freedom to meet on campus. They talked about a proposal that would replace flyering on campus, changing how student groups have advertised events for years. A recent task force report called for an expanded intercampus shuttle that could stop at Chicago attractions, giving students easier access to the city.

None of these proposals are earthshaking, but they offer a glance at what ASG can do.

Too often, ASG is a reactive body instead of a proactive one. It’s at its best when it finds problems students notice but administrators haven’t addressed, or opportunities for innovations too small to get serious university attention.

Instead of arguing about events in small-town Louisiana, senators should have used that time to discuss issues closer to home.

SafeRide and CTECs aren’t as sexy as civil rights and foreign policy. But focusing on the latter doesn’t make senators any more important or their work any more worthwhile.

It just feeds their egos and stops them from doing their jobs.