Democracy Now An Illusion At UWM
The noble idea behind student government is to allow students to be actively involved in the decisions that govern their experience at UWM. Law allows students to set and allocate the segregated fee portion of tuition. These fees in turn are meant to enrich UWM for all students on campus.
Your Student Association (student government) is based off of the U.S. system of democracy. Three branches that work for the common good of those they represent. Three branches of government that create a constant pattern of checks and balances. With such noble ideas and such a great basis for a governmental system, what are we lacking at UWM? What has happened to corrupt our system? Simply, personal greed has eroded the foundation on which our student government is based.
Our student government is no longer a powerful democracy. Instead, it has become a corrupt and oppressive dictatorship. A system not governed by its own laws and rules; rather, it is a system that bends and tailors its laws to gain power for a few “fat cats”. At its current state, our grand Student Association’s three-branch system has been demolished and only one true power remains.
Our judicial branch is no longer functioning after the resignation of Justice Michels. This renders the court inactive and leaves students without a way to bring complaints before the student government. The only choice for possible action is to present a case to Student Association President Samantha Prahl. What if your complaint is against her? What can be done then? The answer is nothing can be done. The only way to create a functioning court would be for the SA president to appoint a new justice. Chances are the current administration will continue to use the same tactic former President Rueden used. They will simply not appoint a new justice. This way, they can’t be challenged and control more power.
What about the legislative branch you ask? Aren’t they the back bone of any true democracy? Don’t they represent the students they were sworn to represent in these matters? Not in this system. The most disheartening consequence of this administration has been its butchery of the Senate – the heart and sole of democracy. Led by former President Rueden, the Senate meetings sound more like a soliloquy then a place of meaningful debate and discussion. No senator is needed to motion for, or second, a piece of legislation as called for in Robert’s Rules of Order – the rules the Senate supposedly follows. Instead, Rueden simply calls unanimous approval. So, where are the concerned senators elected to call out this kind of crap? They have been systematically dealt with.
In one cowardly move, President Samantha Prahl submitted a new set of executive bylaws to the Senate this summer. The bylaws were released to members of the Senate the day before the meeting and showed none of the usual underlines or strike-throughs that bylaw amendments usually feature. These marks allow the Senate to see all the changes that are proposed. Instead, President Prahl stood in front of the Senate and told them all the changes only to leave out the crucial change that would allow members of her executive branch to retain seats on the senate. This meant that the President’s paid employees would represent votes in the Senate.
This all happened under the watchful eye of current Senate Speaker Rueden. The irony is that it was Rueden himself that made the ruling to separate the branches when he was Chief Justice. His reasoning was that there was an implicit conflict of interests with having paid members serve in two branches of the government. What changed his mind? Could it be his longtime rumored relationship with President Prahl? Could it be that this brought them one step closer to absolute power? This is the guy who, The Post reported, is being investigated for allegedly embezzling $10,000 worth of student money.
So where does this leave the Senate? More than half of the current Senate is on the executive branch’s payroll. This means that more than half of a branch charged with checking and balancing the executive branch is currently employed by THE same executive branch. Is biting the hand that feeds you not a conflict of interest?
Without a functioning court and with a crippled Senate left bewildered by countless strategic moves, what is left of the proud system that governs us students? It leaves us with only an executive branch – a true dictatorship. Does that scare you? It should. As a student at UWM, you are charged more in segregated fees than you would be charged if you attended any other campus in the state. These fees are set by your student government – the Student Association. A government that is by far the highest paid student government in the state. Your President alone makes $9,500 a year. She also controls a budget of over $80,000 to be spent on executive employees. I will never argue that creating student jobs is not one of the greatest accomplishments the Student Association could achieve for students. Why, though, do all of these jobs have to be internalized solely in the executive branch? Isn’t the goal of the student government to spread the wealth?
It was the Three Musketeers that coined the phrase, “All for one, one for all!” It seems that somewhere along the line the current administration lost sight of the second half of that phrase. They are elected to serve all students, not just themselves.
Where does this leave the future of our student government? Due to internal power acquisitions, all consistent external sources of guidance have been eliminated. These are key resources that allow for smooth transitions when power changes hands. If and when a new power steps into office, they will be left with a Student Activities Office and an entire line of resource centers in shambles. Without the presence of SAO and without an SA advisor (who was eliminated by President Rueden last year) the elects will be lost and without any resources to maintain order. Our government is all but doomed when the current dictatorship is over.
How did it get to this point you may ask? It wasn’t a set of random occurrences. Trace this to its beginnings last spring when a botched election took place. The Independent Election Commissioner was paid more for two months of sub-par work than the highest paid members of the Senate. The Speaker got paid less for an entire year and countless hours of work than the IEC did. How did this happen you ask?
After being appointed by then President Rueden, she took over two-thirds of the pay that was set aside for poll workers and other election employees? All that was left was for someone to sign off on her time card. A time card that featured two separate pay rates set personally by the IEC. The latter of the two rates was at a rate in excess of twenty dollars an hour. Who would sign off on a time card like this, worth thousands of student dollars? Former President Rueden would of course.
I can’t say for sure what happened throughout the election process. I do know that there was a lot of information left behind closed doors. When you are paying a personal close friend an exorbitant amount of money for less then a month of work, red flags have to be raised. I mean, if the fact that the IEC knocked an entire party off the ticket for questionable reasons isn’t enough, what do we have? We have an entire election that was bought.
The mutiny of a student’s rights and money continues further yet. The one committee on campus that directly affects more students in a positive way than any other is SAC – the Senate Appropriations Committee. The sole purpose of this committee is to hand out money to the hundreds of student organizations on campus so they can positively add to the campus and community. This year was to be monumental. After a fiscally tight year last term, I was able to convince the Senate to give the committee more money than it had ever received in the past. This meant that the roughly three hundred student organizations on campus would be eligible to receive part of more than $600,000. The football team would get pads, Habitat for Humanity would get hammers, Alliance for Animals would bring in a nationally-recognized speaker, this paper would be printed and every fraternity and sorority on campus would have markers and paper to make signs to attract the next group of involved students.
Instead though, the committee was taken over by graduate students with different ideas for that money. They felt that SAC was wasteful and that adult students should get their own money. They said “SAC is not a father with an open wallet”. So they did things their way. They immediately changed the bylaws to send all unspent funds back to the Senate at the end of the year. So, money that last year’s Senate voted to be given directly back to the students was turned 360 degrees and is now headed directly back into the pockets of the fat, greedy pigs. Every penny this year’s committee refuses to spend will go back to the Senate. In past years, it would simply roll over to next year’s SAC committee so it could be given back to the students it was intended for.
This year’s committee allows a student organization $25 for printing and supplies. If you have ever filled out the paperwork to receive SAC funding you would know the printing costs of the forms for a year would cost well in excess of every penny they are giving for printing. The committee is also clueless on any laws concerning the allocation of segregated fees. All funding has to be given out in an extremely neutral manner. So, when the current chair of the committee tells a group presenting to the committee not to worry because he is a Democrat, you have to wonder. The committee acts in violation of more of its own bylaws, state laws and federal Laws than I can count. If anyone has the money for a lawyer and wants to make a case against these idiots let me know, I’ll give you the list. My case against them in the Student Court was dropped when the court became inactive.
I feel the tide coming in and I see the ship is starting to take on water. So, I am fleeing ship; I have resigned from my position as a Senator. I can’t make positive change for those I represent when the system is broken. What can be done, and what is the best course of action?
What can be done when a system is geared to eliminate external influences? You can’t knock on the door and ask for change. I think, more importantly, the question is what are you gaining from your current Student Association? What, if any negative effect would you feel without them? These are all questions being asked by powerful student organizations on campus, sickened by the current state of the administration. In the next few weeks, you will probably be approached by a petition asking for your signature to abolish the current student government. It is a move that has taken place twice in Madison with positive results. Weigh your thoughts, beliefs and obligations. Then ask yourself, is your money and government working for you and your school, or are you working to pay them? I won’t ask you to sign the petition but I may just ask to borrow your pen to make my opinion known.
(Republished from the University Standard, October 2006, Vol. 1 Issue 3)