It looks like Student Council has finally got the picture. After a less-than-stellar election, various attempts at political leadership and a collision with what has arguably become this campus' most influential collection of activists, the Council has finally taken a good first step toward being a more productive and useful voice for students.
But there is still a long way to go. Last weekend's elections saw a dismal turnout that was nearly half that of a year ago, and a litany of problems (named by Student Council itself) continues to go unresolved.
But with some much-needed electoral turnover and an injection of energetic idealism, there is reason to be optimistic.
Scott Bierbryer, the Council's incoming President, is a particular breath of fresh air. As former StuCo treasurer and chairman of the Student Activities Commission (SAC), he is well qualified for the tasks ahead. In his previous capacities, he was forced to do something that StuCo has had great difficulty with in the past: Make decisions. He interacted with students and administrators and, along with fellow SAC members, oversaw the distribution of hundreds of thousands of dollars to student organizations. The SAC, while certainly far from perfect, is a productive group in which Bierbryer has shown considerable leadership.
Bierbryer also told the News-Letter last week that one of his biggest priorities will be directing the Council's attention away from the party-planning and administrative elbow-rubbing of the past and toward areas of real need. A focus on policy is much needed after all these years.
What we are most hopeful for is a break in the vicious cycle in which StuCo has operated in recent years. The Council spends the year twiddling its thumbs, students become cynical about its capacity to effect change and when elections come around, few feel compelled to run or vote. An institutional shift is in order. This year's Council has finally begun that long-delayed battle against inertia, and we are looking forward to seeing it continued.
However, in order for StuCo to become truly viable, it needs to begin thinking and acting with confidence. It cannot compel the administration to consider student interests unless it is taken seriously at the highest levels of the University. And it won't be taken seriously by the administration until it is respected by students.
How can StuCo achieve what is, essentially, a mandate? One way is by advertising its assemblies more widely and inviting students to share their opinions more often. A town meeting system would go towards encouraging students to speak up. StuCo should also organize referenda on issues of significance in order to show students that it cares about and will respond directly to their desires. In addition, it should reach out to student organizations and build a broad coalition of student support, much the way HEAT has. Bierbryer's experience in this regard will be beneficial.
2007-2008 will be a rebuilding year for StuCo. The foundation is shaky; it must be buttressed by real achievement and successful advocacy on the part of students. The goal should be to inject StuCo with some long-awaited vitality and clarity of mission. Then, perhaps, we will have a strong student government to represent us when decisions that affect our lives are under debate.