In this space, we often discuss what the Missouri Students Association accomplishes or doesn’t accomplish. In recent months, for example, we have lauded current President Nick Droege for his work establishing the successful Tiger Pantry, and we have chided the MSA Senate for endangering the passing of its budget. However, we don’t often discuss the culture of the body elected to represent MU students. Recent trends, though, have us worried MSA is not achieving what it could be, and it’s time for us to turn our spotlight to the behavior and conduct of your student representatives.
The social culture of MSA seems to often discourage any kind of discussion, debate or disagreement among its senators. There is rarely much contention during Senate meetings, with its members typically marching in lockstep. That’s not a good representation of students. There should always be a discussion. There should always be something to improve, and the constant lack of such suggests MSA senators are either too afraid or too lazy to represent their students; or, they simply haven’t talked to enough of the students they represent to carry a legitimate dissenting opinion.
The Senate’s lack of debate is not the only element of MSA with which we have been disappointed recently. While it’s probably unreasonable to expect that a student legislative body will always stay on task during meetings, this year has brought a noticeable decline in the quality and efficiency of meetings for both the cabinet and several committees.
This structural collapse was wholly apparent Wednesday during the second meeting of the Student Conduct Committee review group. Created by outgoing MSA Senate Speaker Jake Sloan, the committee is tasked with preparing questions to ask Donell Young, the current Office of Student Conduct senior coordinator who is in charge of the Student Conduct Committee. Having allotted 45 minutes to meet and continue discussing issues with the committee, the meeting began seven minutes late and they spent seven minutes discussing the material before dissolving into talking about members’ favorite childhood toys and other trivial topics. The committee didn’t even cover two of the items on their agenda, both of which were major concerns during early debates about the committee.
This abandonment of professionalism, efficiency and purpose is not unique to Sloan’s new committee. The MSA Senate cabinet discussed plans this week to play video games as part of “team-building” during their next meeting (this plan was later postponed indefinitely). Toward the end of last semester, a senator went around to each committee meeting announcing plans for an MSA party to be held off-campus. The Senate regularly spends too much time playing “Good Shit, Bad Shit,” in which senators talk about the positives and negatives of their day, their recent haircuts and so on.
Obviously, this is pitiful, is a complete waste of time, money and potential and is embarrassing for every MU student who is represented by MSA. But how is this — the rapid devolution of the MSA Senate from a governmental and advocacy body to a social outlet — allowed to continue? The answer likely is the lack of accountability and the increase in the ratio of at-large senators to senators elected by their colleges.
To explain, according to section 2.40 of the MSA bylaws and article five, paragraph B, section 2 of the MSA constitution, its Senate allows for 70 senators (along with the Senate Speaker). Twenty of these are at-large seats — that is, their holders are selected by sitting senators during meetings. The rest are supposed to be elected by individual academic colleges of the university, but ten of these seats can be made at-large seats if not filled. Currently, 63 seats are filled, 30 of which are at-large — clearly a much higher proportion than was originally intended when the Senate’s constitution was established.
The problem with having so many at-large senators compared to senators elected by colleges is simply an issue of “insiders” and “outsiders.” Often, potential at-large senators are encouraged to run and vouched for by their friends, rather than running in order to represent their college and its students. This isn’t exactly nepotism, but for a government body to function as a self-electing club is automatically dangerous, both because it can encourage socializing instead of debating and because it can discourage outsiders with real disagreements and agendas from getting in and trying to make progress. The high proportion of at-large senators this year means they have little accountability and little to prove to the students they supposedly represent.
This must be changed. MSA is in charge of a nearly $2 million budget, which is composed of student fees and university money. It is directly responsible for the salaries and jobs of several university employees. And, as we have seen with the recent recognition of More For Less campaign leaders, it is capable of effecting real change both in Columbia and in Jefferson City. Clearly, it is a powerful organization with a lot of responsibility, and when members use their time to discuss childhood toys and play video games, they are letting every MU student and employee down.
MSA senators must hold themselves to a higher standard and shoot for a greater purpose. To start, they must hold their meetings and agendas to a higher standard — cover more, debate more, disagree more. That’s how progress is made and where ideas come from. The Senate has only proposed one piece of noteworthy legislation — a bill to establish an ad-hoc committee to study luxury housing in Columbia — in its last three meetings. Maybe more meaningful legislation would appear if senators were more engaged with their constituents.
Then, they should work to reform the Senate itself. This year, Droege should use his visibility and high esteem on campus to encourage MU’s colleges to nominate and elect more senators, especially those with different points of view and interesting ideas.
There is no shortage of tasks MSA can and should accomplish this year. We have tried to highlight many in this space, and we will continue to do so. But the Senate needs to take responsibility for the great power it holds, make students care about what it’s doing, and make them want to follow its developments. That takes hard work, creative vision and efficient planning. But that should not stop MSA — after all, it’s what they are elected to do.
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