Wednesday, March 22, 2006


by Erik Owomoyela, DI Opinions Editor

On Monday, the DI Editorial Board called for the elimination of UI Student Government in its current form. Since then, several UISG officials have expressed their displeasure to us, directly or otherwise. Their feelings are clearly understandable: Scrapping an institution with as much history as UISG isn't something to take lightly, and our decision wasn't an easy one.

The decision's impetus came as we reflected on a presidential campaign that was, without question, particularly depressing - but, while previous years have been better, they haven't been good. Candidates practice both underhandedness and theatrics while promising the moon - or at least a late-night Cambus that goes there. The proposals usually go nowhere, and the administrators who would actually implement them are largely ignored. Some of us have been following and dealing with UISG for years; others were relative newcomers. As we tried to work out what went wrong, our discussion led back to the illogical structure of the institution itself.

UISG includes many dedicated people who genuinely seek to improve student life. But good people can work within a bad system. The essence of what we saw was that UISG's high points came about in spite of the organization, while its low points came because of it.

Despite its moniker, UISG isn't really a government. Apart from the allocation of student fees to student organizations, it doesn't govern anything. Rather, it represents the students' interests to those officials who do - and this is done chiefly through one-on-one relationships, as officials and candidates have repeatedly told us.

The UISG constitution (available here in Microsoft Word format) is well over 16,000 words in length, some 9,000 words longer than the federal one is with all 26 amendments. The bulk of the document is dedicated to explaining the interrelations between UISG's various bodies. Rather than act as a conduit between students and the authorities, UISG exists largely to manage itself - which doesn't suggest an organization that makes good use of the talent it has.

This raises the question of what to do instead. Lobbying and relations with UI administrators and Iowa City officials could be handled by student liaisons without a massive apparatus for them to answer to. The Student Assembly Budgeting and Auditing Committee is perfectly capable of allocating funds by itself, as it largely already does; a small student council could manage the organization. Complaints of budgeting impropriety could be managed through the university, which provides the money anyway, with direct elections and/or referenda for accountability to students. Because the Student Elections Board's attempted micromanagement of campaigns hasn't made them more pleasant or less chaotic anyway, its mandate could at least be scaled back.

These are my ideas - and not necessarily the Editorial Board's. We debated alternate structures, funding schemes, and selection processes and didn't always agree on the right way to proceed. But we did agree that the ideal arrangement should focus on getting the most skilled, dedicated people into positions where they can make a difference - and that this can be done at least as effectively, and much more efficiently, than with the web of organizations that make up UISG today.

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