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Volume 24, Number 9
September 2004

Student Government Blues
By Daniel J. D’Amico

Colleges offer their students a taste of reality by simulating the political atmosphere of society with the presence of student government associations (SGAs). The election process succeeds in mimicking many aspects of real political campaigns: the cutthroat environment of campaign promises combined with the relentless schmoozing of constituencies, and mindless pride.

Rather than encouraging students to be productive in the academic sense, this element of student life encourages students to popularize themselves no matter the costs and regardless of ideology. The similarity that exists between class assignments and actual employment experience pales by comparison to how successful this process is at grooming our educated youths to love the unlovable arena of the political mainstream.

The development of SGAs at universities 100 years ago centered on the development of student honor codes. Now the presence of an SGA is standard at almost all universities. The noble efforts of SGA pioneers have mutated into leviathan-like attempts to manage the intricacies of all aspects of student life. This judicial nature of the student government grew in its scope of influence to encompass student-organization chartering, budgeting, and troves of other student life operations.

SGAs maintain and create mountains of paperwork including meeting minutes, bylaws, and constitutions. This love for red tape probably elicits a great feeling of accomplishment in the hearts of these baby bureaucrats. SGA constitutions give actual legislative documents a run for their money, yet nowhere do they mention such essentials as going to class or maintaining a decent GPA.

Performing the role of a student government representative is similar to that of performing the role of an actual government representative. While making decisions on matters he has no expertise in, the rep appears knowledgeable and benevolent. Mastering this technique makes him the perfect candidate for political office by achieving the most needed characteristic of governmental office: the ability to shirk responsibility.

An SGA activity that comes to mind is the issuance of student fees to student organizations. Student activities fees simulate the taxing mechanism of real governments. Each student is charged a mandatory fee that is collected and redistributed among student organizations by the authority of the SGA.

Most student organizations recognize a left-liberal bias that exists in the SGA budget allocation process. The same bias exists throughout the entire spectrum of university functions, thanks to the dependent relationship that has come to exist between the profession of education and government subsidy. The process of student budget allocation pitches students against students to bid for the attention and support of SGA in an interest-group fashion.

After viewing the SGA process of electing representatives, passing inane motions, and allocating student fees, the general student body grows inevitably apathetic, disinterested, and generally annoyed at the presence of such a wasteful and purposeless organization. Voting turnouts for SGAs across the board are absolutely dismal, marking just one more striking similarity between these student operated playgrounds and the actual world of politics.

SGAs are only one form of civic organization that seems to mirror the worst aspects of modern politics. The only mystery is why we are constantly told to hold them all in high regard. The model students on campus should be those who study and excel in academics, not those who browbeat others into giving them power over others and money with which to exercise it.

Daniel J. D’Amico studies economics at George Mason University, and was a summer fellow with the Mises Institute (ddamico@gmu.edu).

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