This article originally appeared in a spring 2009 issue of The Tiger, Clemson University's student newspaper. It deals with a local school issue regarding an ineffective student government. The Tiger does not hold archives longer than about six years.
A few nights ago, a friend and her Jeep were stranded in a parking lot near the Dunkin Donuts. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get it running again, the problem was finally fixed in an unexpected way: hitting a part of the engine really hard with a hammer.
Regrettably, not all solutions to all problems are this simple or this good at relieving frustration. However, the upcoming round of student government elections will have all kinds of snake oil salesmen trying to convince Clemson students that the complex and involved problems are fixed as easily as casting a ballot or starting a broken Jeep.
In recent memory, however, the student government has done little to nothing to solve any of the problems around campus. Instead, they worry themselves with tasks that could be easily accomplished by one paid employee behind a desk. Examples include passing out money to student organizations or chastising Greek organizations for partying too hard.
Despite the fact that student government seems to deal only with trivial campus matters during times of the year that are not close to their elections, the candidates will do everything in their power during election time to convince the student body that their offices matter, and that real change will come.
The best empty campaign promise was a while back, when a candidate promised to have a live tiger on campus sometime during his term. But empty campaign promises are the norm for all of the candidates in student government, so the idea is that the bigger the empty promise, the more likely they are to get votes.
A big reason that this problem with student government exists is that there is almost zero accountability for an elected official to follow through on his or her election promises. First, younger students are almost always lost in the herd in the Undergraduate Student Senate where they have no real ability to do anything besides add a line to their resumes or vote on whether or not the Clemson Basketweaving Club gets their annual $500.
Second, the students who are actually in a position to make a change, perhaps as the Student Body President or some other higher office, will be graduating sooner rather than later and will be unable to run for reelection. Therefore, they have no incentive to satisfy their constituents. Essentially, because a student’s time in college is so short and a student government official’s time in office is even shorter, everyone in student government is a self-made lame duck.
The student body’s indifference to the goings-on of student government is fairly apparent as well. The average student probably could not name even the most obvious actions of their government. Their feelings of indifference are fairly justified, as this year’s promises of cleaning up the construction on campus, getting rid of the E-portfolio requirement, or fixing the CAT busses will also go unfulfilled.
At least in the past two years the blissful ignorance of the student body has paid off, as all of the voters seem to have elected the past two presidents based on attractiveness, and other higher officials based on the quality of their bowties. Contrary to popular belief, however, this is not a bad thing. If the student government has had any positive impact on Clemson University in the past few years, it has been putting a pretty face on it. Hopefully, this trend will continue.
After all, student government is just practice for politics in the real world, and the voting population at Clemson should get some practice in. Voters outside of student government politics behave the same way, whether in national, state, or local politics. No one seems to pay attention to the past, and they seem to only naively look to the future.
So this student government election, instead of voting for the person with the best qualifications, vote for the most attractive person, or the one who passes out the most interesting, expensive or delicious thing on the library bridge. It’s not like student government could fix any problems on campus any way.
Not even if they had a hammer.