Questions for the SGA ‘election’

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Questions for the SGA ‘election’

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Monday, Feb. 29 is Election Day for the Student Government Association (SGA), but you won’t be seeing any campaign posters or hearing any stump speeches. That’s because there isn’t any real “election” happening at all. This year, all of the candidates for the SGA Executive Board belong to the same party. And, every single one of them is running uncontested.

The lack of candidate selection is apparent across the board, even in senatorial elections. Of the 16 total seats available, four will be filled in uncontested elections, while one will presumably go unfilled. And out of the 19 candidates who are running in competitive elections, only eight of them will not receive a spot.

Uncontested elections are not unheard of in student government, and SLU is no exception. Just two years ago, the executive board ran on a single unopposed ticket. There’s no institutional reason for this. While the SGA executive board is typically elected by party, there is nothing to prevent challengers from running for spots individually. In fact, candidates don’t even need to belong to SGA before running; only 50 student signatures are required for most positions, while presidential candidates must have served in an executive capacity in any Chartered Student Organization (CSO) or Greek life organization, in addition to collecting 100 signatures.

It seems particularly strange that even the presidential race is uncontested. After all, the title of SGA President is more than just resume fodder. Perks of the job include a full-ride scholarship for their time in office (a privilege that was once also extended to the UNews Editor-in-Chief, but has since been rescinded).

This year’s election (or lack thereof) speaks to the growing disconnect between SGA and the student body they purportedly represent.

But so what? Why should anyone care about the micro-politics of campus affairs? To the average student, SGA may seem like an insular club with little outside influence, akin to Model U.N. or a mock trial team. And perhaps there is some merit to these assumptions. Though races have been competitive in the past, voter turnout for SGA elections is notoriously low, ranging in the hundreds, for an undergrad student population of more than 8,000. If selected at random, it would seem likely that few students could name the current president, and even less the representatives of their particular college or community.

But for all their anonymity, SGA members wield disproportionate influence over students’ lives. The SGA has the power to allocate funds (collected from the $55 Student Activity Fee, charged to every SLU student once a semester) to CSOs. Student groups must register as CSOs in order to reserve campus space or sponsor events. This means that nearly every group on campus—from a capella troupes to club sports to volunteer organizations—is affected by SGA’s decision-making in some way or another. (Though the UNews operates independently of SGA funding, a member of SGA is required to sit on our paper’s Advisory Board, which otherwise consists of faculty, administrators and industry professionals).

Should we feel comfortable putting such control in the hands of what are essentially unelected officials?

In other respects, however, it’s questionable whether the senate is capable of effecting any real change at all. While it’s true that SGA has successfully passed minor initiatives, such as providing free metro passes for freshmen, it is doubtful whether they could pass legislation of any real substance without administrative blessing. In fact, even policies largely unpopular with the general student body, such as last year’s mandate to make SLU smoke-free, seem to garner the SGA’s approval with little opposition. In light of this, it seems that SGA is a source of token student representation in campus decision-making at best, and a rubber-stamp mouthpiece for immutable school policies at worst.

This apparent contradiction—SGA’s control of funding versus their legislative impotence—is compounded by the lack of student engagement and raises the question: What should the role of student government be on SLU’s campus today?

To be clear, there is absolutely no reason to question the qualifications, integrity or commitment of any SGA candidates or current members. This is not meant as an attack on SGA or to blame them specifically for the concerns raised. It could be the result of an apathetic student body, or an out-of-touch school administration. Perhaps declining political engagement is simply an irreversible generational trend, occurring across the country. We don’t presume to have the answers here.

But maybe it’s time to start asking questions.