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Rice's ship of state headed toward catastrophe if ignored any longer

By Anthony Lauriello     2/20/13 6:00pm


Plato famously compared the government to an oceangoing vessel, the "ship of state." Bearing this in mind, it is time to tell the Marching Owl Band to play "Louie, Louie" and get the freshmen to the lifeboats because Rice's ship of state is sinking - and sinking fast. Last week's elections mark an ignominious milestone, a complete and utter disaster that we must rectify. 

Our tale of woe starts before the election with the announcement of the ballot proposals and candidates. Yoonjin Min became president by being the only person to want the job. Furthermore, the Blanket Tax Committee, confused about the bylaws of the SA Constitution it operates under, violated its own rules when making its recommendations. These recommendations included endorsing a request by the Rice Program Council for a now-infamous $3 blanket tax increase. For good reason, the editorial board of the Thresher was against an organization marred by failure asking that students pay it more money and just trust that it will fix its deep-seated problems in due time. The Thresher's editorial organs - the Backpage, the cartoon, and the staff editorial - all denounced the tax increase. There was nothing strictly wrong with this; all three of these things (the first two of which I author) are opinions and do not need to be unbiased. However, the sheer number of editorial attacks in one issue was, in retrospect, a mistake that hurt the Thresher's credibility. RPC, like any organization angry about Thresher coverage, responded as it should have and wrote a letter to the editor the next week expressing their opinion. Up to this point, the situation was not an all-out disaster. 

Then the election began. The Election Committee violated the SA Constitution and Bylaws by incorrectly setting up the ballot by leaving out preferential voting and the ability to abstain. This mistake was doubtlessly due to the fact that the article in the SA Constitution referred to the bylaws, which referred to the Election Guide on the SA website, which referred to the Election Code, which was said to be on the SA website but in fact did not seem to exist. One of the students at Rice who actually understands the byzantine constitution informed the SA of this problem within a few hours of the election. Nothing was done. The other student informed the Thresher of what was surely an important story. Due to lack of time the story did not go to print. The story appears after the fact in this week's edition. 

Meanwhile, my fellow Backpage editor and I received a leaked copy of the RPC budget from an anonymous source. This was not confidential information. According to the Blanket Tax Committee's Rules, it should have been publically available online. We decided to print the budget, along with a mock advertisement, calling attention to what we perceived to be unnecessary expenditures. Then RPC began to attack us. There is nothing wrong with RPC responding to our attacks - in fact, I think a contested election is a healthy thing and that RPC had not only the right to respond to us, but the duty to do so. However, the content of its responses was disturbing. There was a sense of offense, a belief that its members' laudable number of "hours spent volunteering" entitled RPC to an uncontested election to increase student funds. Disagreeing with RPC apparently was a malicious attack against every single one of its members. 

One attack in particular angered RPC: the fact we called the tax measure an "investment in incompetence." Contrary to RPC's comments, the remark was describing its organization, not an attack on individual members. I could understand, however, why the remark offended them. No one wants to have his or her competence insulted. However, RPC then proved our comments correct when it sent out a Jones College Listserv email campaigning for its proposal, an obviously illegal method of campaigning. The Election Committee, the organization that broke its own rules when writing the ballot, promptly kicked RPC off the constitutionally invalid ballot for breaking the election code. I may be against the blanket tax increase, but it deserves an up or down vote. It is important to know what the student body believes about the direction of RPC, and now, due to the selective enforcement of the rules, we may never know. 

So, to recap the elections of 2013: The ballot violated the constitution, the presidency was uncontested, the Thresher appeared biased or did not report the news at all, and RPC argued that campaigning against it and calling it incompetent was "malice," while they flagrantly violated the selectively enforced election rules. Change is needed. 

Two things are needed to save our sinking ship of state. The first is fresh blood. Our student institutions need people with fresh ideas and initiative. RPC needs members willing to read the rules and acknowledge criticism just like the Thresher needs members of the editorial staff who will not only go out of their way to report the news, but will also be willing to write editorials and opinion pieces offering contrasting points of view. The Thresher's bias on the op-ed page is in many ways due to the fact that so few people of the Rice community contribute. We may disagree with some members of the SA and RPC, but that does not mean we do not want them to contribute to the Thresher passionately and often. 

The second is constitutional reform. There are few who love the SA Constitution, and even fewer who understand it. I understand that the SA will probably never look like the Confederation of Colleges I want it to be. At the very least however, let us rewrite it so that those working in the SA comprehend their own rules. While it is not her fault, Min is president due to an uncontested and fraudulent election. She must call for a committee to craft a new Constitution, that at the very least can be understood by those who seek to uphold it. The ship of state is sinking, but if we act now, we can prevent our cherished institutions from drowning. 

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

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