Editorial: A compromise solution for ASG restructuring

The Daily Northwestern

A recent proposal to restructure Associated Student Government Senate, championed by President Claire Lew, has divided the ASG executive board and caused controversy.

The Daily applauds Lew for acknowledging major flaws in her organization. But while we find restructuring valuable and necessary, we do not support Lew’s proposal because we think it may lead to unequal representation. Instead, The Daily suggests a compromise plan that cuts the size of Senate and combines at-large and constituency representation.

The current structure of Senate presents its own fundamental problems with representation. Perhaps indicative of general indifference towards ASG, the perennial empty seats leave gaps in representation while the off-campus appointment system is strikingly undemocratic. Meanwhile, the student group seat application is flawed; in practice, as long as existing group representatives maintain solid attendance, a seat in the next year’s ASG is pretty much guaranteed, making it difficult for groups without existing seats to gain representation.

Lew’s proposal, which would reduce the size of Senate from 49 to 20 and make all seats chosen via campus-wide election, does remedy some of these problems. Cutting down the size of Senate will limit empty seats, force accountability for the remaining members and streamline the unnecessary bureaucracy that comes with managing a bigger group of senators.

However, 20 at-large senators present a new set of specific problems. Freshmen may not have the same built-in community and voting base as upperclassmen, perhaps forcing underclassmen to not be represented in the Senate. In addition, certain student groups, organizations or constituencies could use existing resources to campaign heavily, funneling many students from a few organizations into ASG seats. This is especially dangerous given ASG’s primary function of doling out funds to student groups.

What’s most concerning is that at-large senators run the risk of being accountable to so many people that they are not accountable to anyone. A system of exclusively at-large senators limits the student body’s accessibility to the Senate. Under the current system, a student in Plex who wanted to approach ASG would have a de facto contact through the Plex senator. Under Lew’s proposal, that student would not know who to turn to.

In spite of these concerns, The Daily believes the idea of at-large senators does have some merit. There is value in senators thinking and acting in the best interest of the overall campus as opposed to a specific group. And if a senator representing a certain constituency is not as effective as a student may hope, access to an at-large senator would be beneficial.

With that in mind, The Daily suggests the following compromise:

1. Drastically reduce the size of Senate.

2. Make the majority of senators representative to specific constituencies: where students live and what organizations they are a part of (based off of the current model).

3. Include a handful of senators elected in campus-wide elections.

Lew’s proposal is well-intentioned but flawed. It should be reworked into a compromise that will address serious problems with the Senate while maintaining the important link between students and their direct representatives.