Clifton: Does ASG have a crisis of legitimacy?

Derrick Clifton

Inefficient. Irrelevant. Insular.

Ask most students about Associated Student Government and you might just hear one of those words, or get asked “What’s ASG?” Although ASG president Austin Young campaigned last year on the slogan “make it matter,” the question remains: does ASG really matter that much?

If President Schapiro’s remarks to The Daily last fall are any indication, ASG’s voice matters a lot to him.

Calling ASG the “eyes and ears of the undergraduates,” Schapiro said he treats ASG as if it represents the rest of the student body.

And that’s great – but not if students remain clueless about ASG’s impact on their experience. On the whole, communication between students and ASG remains a key driver of student apathy towards the organization each year.

Despite perception that ASG gets nothing done, senators and executive members undertake many unnoticed, thankless projects and tasks. Whether it’s due diligence on the new student center initiative, the Winter Quarter ice rink, addressing off-campus housing concerns or other smaller initiatives aimed at improving aspects of student life, ASG members put in countless hours to improve the student experience.

But students wishing to know what ASG does are hard pressed to find sources of information.

There’s been some measurable progress since The Daily spoke with ASG officials last November regarding communication issues. ASG vice president of public relations Laurel Stankus highlighted difficulties in transitioning given her appointment to the position mid-summer of last year, months after Young was elected.

Other ASG officers pinpointed the appointment delay as a key error, culminating in Young’s apology and pledge to improve communication with students. According to Stankus, planned projects for improvement included revamping the website, improving social media presence and more meetings between the administration and students.

So, let’s take a look.

The website’s still a work in progress and information is scarce. Click on the ‘projects’ tab and you’ll get a “coming soon” message. View the ‘news’ section and the updates are scarce: barely three or four posts from the past few quarters. Senate minute archives from 2011? You won’t find them there if you click the link. The page just doesn’t exist.

Facebook is a different story. Filled with photos of senate meetings, senate minutes and updates on relevant events and news, the ASG page is a great repository of information. Even still, the page evinces low student engagement.

And Twitter? We’re back to square one. Last quarter there were three posts, only one of which mentioned an ASG project, namely a Jan. 10 post about the 5K initiative launch. And that was the last one before the start of this quarter.

Five months later and there’s still much to be desired as ASG begins transitioning to new leadership. Although Stankus did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication, Young said in a Thursday interview that despite ASG communication efforts via press releases and social media, student engagement is lacking. “We’ve seen the metrics. People are seeing the posts but they aren’t engaging,” he said.

Young highlighted the special interest roundtables and the 5K initiative as two areas he felt ASG contributed to improved communication with students, adding that there’s still room for improvement.

Indeed there is – and yet public relations remains only half the battle, with the current crop of ASG presidential candidates all identifying lack of senator accountability as another driver of student disengagement.

SESP junior Kameron Dodge, one of the three candidates, remarked Tuesday that not all senators serve on committees or meet minimum participation expectations. “ASG doesn’t do a good job of publicizing what it gets done,” he said. “If we’re not giving students a concrete look on what’s getting done otherwise, the typical NU student doesn’t know what exactly we do.”

Citing strategy pitfalls as a larger issue with respect to communication, Weinberg junior and presidential candidate Dan Tully claimed the organization operates from an assumption that students actually care about what ASG does.

“Most students don’t think about ASG because they don’t have sustained contact throughout the year,” Tully said Tuesday. “ASG has contact in campaign season because the candidates bring information to them in the most convenient of venues … that shouldn’t stop after campaign season.”

The current candidates for president all have lofty campaign platforms with plans aimed towards increasing student communication. Among them, Weinberg junior and presidential candidate Victor Shao discussed Tuesday his plan for a “reddit style” online idea submissions system called ExpressioNU where students can vote and comment on proposed ASG initiatives.

“It’s hard to quantify how well an administration does with communication,” Shao said. But, still, he identified it as the biggest challenge past administrations have struggled with.

Regardless of how challenging student engagement continues to be for ASG, especially in the current year, it’s not my job to point out who’s at fault here.

Bureaucratic systems come with more than their fair share of finger pointing. Whether the public relations machine is stuck in first gear or ASG senators aren’t communicating with their constituents, getting students energized and interested won’t be remedied with a piece of legislation or within a presidential administration.

But what the current crop of candidates can do is be realistic with students and even themselves. Large platforms are admirable and reflect awareness on a wide array of student concerns, yet relatively few projects are implementable within the course of a year. And it doesn’t help matters if students aren’t hearing about them.

Without a pragmatic approach, whomever claims victory next week will easily recreate past pitfalls. Clear, consistent communication will most certainly be key. Otherwise, NU students will experience deja vu each April, strolling down a campus clad in campaign advertisements without a clue or care about ASG.

Derrick Clifton is a Communication senior. He can be reached at [email protected]