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Editorial: Infighting and bloated agenda mar SGA plan

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • April 12, 2012

At issue: SGA lobbies administrators with unrealistic laundry list of reforms.

Our take: This SGA lacks the focus and professionalism to rise to its own plans.

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In middle school, student body candidates promised shorter classes, longer lunches, extra recess, and pizza parties in homeroom. We’re still waiting for those things. 

In the letter to administrators chronicling a laundry list of suggestions to reform academics at Emerson, our student leaders included what they called “A Note Regarding Plausibility.” Suffice to say, they needed it—the broad and unfocused document asks for more changes than could ever be feasible for one administration to tackle. 

Politicians make lofty goals every day. “Reforming academics” in a college setting sounds as vague as “fixing the economy” does on a national scale. Like economic reform in American political discourse, academic reform oversimplifies dozens of diverse and often unrelated goals into an easily digestible buzz phrase. Political communication majors might recognize this from Populism 101. 

This editorial board doesn’t quibble with the intentions behind SGA’s idealistic screed, or the value of many of its proposals. It points out kinks in Emerson’s machinery we’ve all complained about at one time or another. But to lobby the administration with so many grievances at once makes it less likely that time and attention will be given to each talking point. It’s impossible to be simultaneously persistent about 19 things.

Any one of their suggestions—fixing registration, for instance—would make a worthwhile initiative to see to fruition. In lieu of focus and pragmatism, our leaders chose to throw as many ideas at the wall as tickled their fancy, just to see what stuck. SGA’s list is so poorly directed that it fails even to prioritize its complaints. If administrators feel generous enough to meet SGA halfway, it will be impossible to determine where “halfway” even is. 

The letter is formidable in its scope and audacity, but its scope and audacity are precisely why it’s a weak agent of change. The road to establishing this flawed document was fraught with SGA’s characteristic lack of commitment. A dearth of feedback and engagement left a small portion of student officials holding the reins of this enormous undertaking. 

“I sent out emails about these initiatives on Friday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon,” wrote SGA Vice President Caitlin Higgins in an email April 3 to members of SGA and Beacon editors. “Tau [Zaman] sent out an email on Monday. It’s incredibly disheartening and  disappointing when we ask for feedback, receive none, and then run into a wall of issues.

I get that we are a busy group—everyone has their own obligations outside of SGA, and I understand,” Higgins continued, “but it really sucks (for lack of a better word) to feel like I wasted time on something that nobody cared enough about to look at or comment on until it was up for a vote today.”

Journalism Senator Melyssa Cantor concurred. “We all get busy,” she responded in the email thread, “but it is very disheartening to see the hard work of certain individuals be ignored because we haven’t read what they had to say.”

Putting an unconvincingly positive spin on the crisis, President Tau Zaman intervened to suggest these frustrations are part of the process. “It’s healthy for us to disagree and hold eachother [sic] accountable,” he wrote.

This is not healthy disagreement. While she later apologized to recipients of the email for her “tone,” Higgins’ words speak very plainly for themselves. She hadn’t complained about differing ideas or constructive debate—she complained that her work had gone unread by enough of her peers to justify speaking up about it. If there’s any question about why these initiatives are weak, it’s because SGA couldn’t be bothered to make them strong. 

SGA’s plan to reform academics is a fanciful promise it hasn’t demonstrated the power or focus to keep. Some leaders struggle to attend joint session meetings, follow constitutional bylaws, and complete their terms without quitting midstream—just last week, yet two more SGA officials bailed on the job. It’s not without just cause that we find ourselves doubting their ability to deliver on these initiatives. 

This isn’t leadership. We charge our representatives to do more than just articulate our grumbles. We elect them to do so more efficiently and productively than we could, to refine and strategize them. Instead, SGA played all of its cards in one hand in hopes that something—anything—might take hold. So broad and ambitious is the letter that we at the Beacon find it too good to be true.