An ASG dissident speaks out

David Spett

Monday Column

Weinberg senior Eric Parker said he might know more about the history of Associated Student Government than anyone else on campus. His conclusion: ASG was much better in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and even a few years ago. Today, he said, the organization is “so broken,” and many of President Jonathan Webber’s plans “don’t seem to be happening.”

Parker, who strikes me as abrasive, started at Northwestern on a path to becoming the ultimate ASG insider. He was a senator for a year and a half and served as parliamentarian, or rules chair, for most of 2006. He felt the job required understanding organizational history, so he studied it. But he quit in January 2007 because, he said, he had had enough. Now he is fiercely critical of ASG. The organization’s executive board isn’t “focused on the issues students care most about,” Parker said. “Students want things. Student government should step up and say that. ASG is supposed to be that forum, but it isn’t.”

Some would say Parker left ASG because he lost a race for Speaker of the Senate last March. (Parker said that’s not the reason.) Still, it’s telling that someone with bold ideas and an insider mentality, and who spent many years in student government in both high school and college, ended up so jaded.

To be sure, Parker is hardly the only person on campus criticizing ASG. But his critique is particularly compelling because of his experience in the organization. “It’s hard to get things done when you have an ASG mind frame,” he said. “People get institutionalized into ASG very quickly, and they lose sight of what they should be doing: Making life better for students. For the vast majority of senators, ASG is nothing more than an extra line on a résumé.” I’ll rephrase that: Parker said the very culture of ASG prevents it from helping students.

I was struck by his response when I asked who sets organizational culture. “The ASG president is not the leader of the organization,” he said. “ASG doesn’t really have a leader. There’s no one agenda being set. It’s not as though the president comes and says, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’ like a State of the Union type of thing.” This will need to change for ASG to improve.

What’s Parker’s solution? More outsiders in top positions, “even if they have no experience in ASG.” Last year, presidential candidate Julian Hill was a relative outsider, but he lost. And not a single one of the vice presidential races were contested. “When the system is so broken that (so many) people don’t have opponents, I think we really do need to vote no confidence,” Parker said. “It’s a great way to tell ASG and the administration that students have had enough.”

ASG elections are in two months. If you’ve had enough, run for office or vote for the outsiders. If there aren’t any, vote no confidence.

Medill senior David Spett can be reached [email protected]