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SA needs to be abolished, replaced

By Anthony Lauriello     11/28/12 6:00pm


When, in the course of campus events, an off-campus alumnus finds it necessary to "consult" the Student Association, it is time to dissolve the political bands that have incompetently governed us. Using consulting groups such as McKinsey & Company is not a welcome solution to the deep and inherent problems in the SA. Despite precedent, we at Rice should be perfectly capable of running our own government, and as the need for a liquor ban shows, when we falter, the administration will be the one to take our power from us. Our alumni should voice their opinions in alumni organizations. As a senior, the very fact that a Rice graduate has the time or the desire to attend an SA meeting terrifies me to my very core. 

However, the fact that a team of consultants feels needed in the first place and is not laughed off as ridiculous shows us in what a low place we are. While we could blame individuals for this, I believe the fault lies in our institutions. Our student government is set up as a federalist system, with a central body (the SA) set up to rule local governments (the colleges). While this system works for the United States, it does not reflect the true nature of the college system. The colleges are where almost all the power and political capital lies. If you doubt this, then look at the simple fact that college socials wield more influence and name recognition than college senators. Aspiring and successful politicians on campus dream of controlling their colleges, not the SA. The SA president is at best the 12th most important student leader on campus. The SA has become a second-rate body. During the meetings, the college presidents sit bored as an insulated and bureaucratic body argues about minutiae. The SA does not need to be reformed; it needs to be abolished. 

To accomplish this goal, we need to call a constitutional convention to scrap the confusing and poorly worded SA Constitution and create a new body that reflects the college system. The current constitution requires 5 percent of the student body to sign a petition to get a referendum on the ballot. This amounts to roughly 185 students. I and several others plan to issue a petition sometime in the beginning of next year. 

In the SA's place, I would like to see a Confederacy of Colleges modeled on the European Union. (Confederacy sometimes has negative connotations due to American history. Here, it simply implies a looser organization of powers. Perhaps a different name will be required if it brings back too many painful associations.) The college presidents will sit on an executive committee with revolving chairmanships and a few elected positions, such as a treasurer. Due to the busy nature of presidents, colleges will also send a representative to the central body. Unlike senators, these representatives will work closely with their college presidents and be important voting members of their college cabinets. The college presidents will know who in their college can best tackle problems, and when committees are needed, they will know which students feel passionately about certain causes. 

Of course, my proposed solution is not necessarily the correct one, and any SA replacement would have to be created through the democratic process. What is clear, however, is that the SA is broken and beyond repair. This is not a school of small ideas, and when it comes to our student government, we need bold thinking and the courage to dispose of what has failed time and time again. Let's stop complaining about the SA; let's get rid of it. 

Anthony Lauriello is a backpage editor and a Wiess College senior. 

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