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Editorial: SGA session a frosty Pelton pow-wow

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • April 19, 2012

At issue: President, trustees, and SGA meet awkwardly to talk money. 

Our take: Meeting did little to bridge the gap between students and administrators.

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Preparing for important company can be a stressful endeavor. Some people pull out their best silverware, others pray to a higher power to ensure everything goes smoothly. In some homes, hosts clear off a seldom-used dining room table to make the event as formal and memorable as possible.  

The formality of a table was, in fact, the first of several uncomfortable points of interaction between Emerson’s Student Government Association and President M. Lee Pelton on Tuesday. Rearranged prior to the meeting between SGA and members of the board of trustees, the inapposite piece of furniture—with great, narrowdistance between the opposing heads—acted as a fitting metaphor for the tenor of the conversation.

Where SGA delivered questions that were wordy, somewhat repetitive, and novice-sounding, they were received by Pelton’s prepared talking points in a way that witnesses say seemed at times aggravated and aloof. 

“It’s hard to have a conversation under these circumstances,” he said. 

Insisting that there would be no time for SGA introductions and that the setup of the Bill Bordy Theatre wasn’t conducive to an informal conversation, Pelton also dictated thatreporters in the room identify themselves. The awkwardness with which the meeting began resurfaced at moments when the president responded that a question was “poorly worded” and trustee Marillyn Zacharis admitted that SGA’s ideas on tuition and expenditures were “nice, but a little challenging.” Once more, with feeling. 

“Nice” is likely not the enthusiastic response members of SGA were hoping for. While the meeting was obviously flawed in its execution, the preparation—moving the meeting to a spiffier location and briefing Pelton with questions ahead of time—was commendable. As a meeting between SGA and board members for which recent memory shows no precedent, student leaders might have brought more creative energy into making it engaging. 

But all nervous hosts slip up. A gracious guest smiles and plays it down without drawing attention. This meeting was at least as ceremonial as it was practical, a gesture toward open communication and institutional unity between somewhat detached areas of the college. The back-and-forth between SGA, Pelton, and trustees was neither illuminating nor tangibly productive—and it was never going to be. 

Even if one body can’t make sweeping promises to the other, a greater effort could have been demonstrated to prove that all parties genuinely wanted to be there.