Wednesday, March 29, 2006, may well become known as the day the Associated Students of Madison finally collapsed under the weight of its own bureaucracy.
It was on that day that ASM — whether through its own error or that of the University of Wisconsin's Division of Information Technology — failed to successfully carry out the most basic of democratic functions, an election. And it was on that day that a group of campus leaders convened to declare a revolution of sorts and create a new student government.
For too long, ASM has been little more than a tangled web of over-expansive red tape capable only of siphoning ever-increasing segregated fees from the student body and confusing even the most astute of observers with a labyrinth of do-nothing committees run by résumé-padding students overzealously concerned with their own personal welfare.
In the new Student Government, we see a genuine opportunity for the sort of change that will ultimately serve this campus well. The group of students who have voluntarily come to form the constitutional committee of this new government will soon commence a series of listening sessions as they face the high task of molding a document that can successfully lead this campus into a new era that reeks not of corruption and greed, but rather of integrity and efficiency.
To endorse this new body prior to the completion of a constitution, however, would be wholly premature. But we, as everyone on this campus ought to, have some suggestions for the new body. Moreover, we are comfortable in asserting that should the general spirit of these notions be followed by the Student Government, this board — like many other campus institutions — would be hard-pressed to continue dignifying the disgraceful existence of ASM.
On the question of allocable segregated fees, the Student Government ought not seek to play the role of taxman. Rather, the legal intricacies of a process that has been riddled with corruption should be handled in the most basic of manners, with a simple "opt-in" system. Every student deserves to make his or her own educated decision as to which groups he or she will fund on this campus, allowing a market-based economy to reward those student groups truly meritorious in nature and to correct those organizations obsessed with bloated payrolls and wasteful spending.
Further, to laudable ends of transparency and honesty, the new Student Government ought to prove truly accessible to all on campus. This means uploading proposed and actual student-organization budgets to a publicly accessible website and offering the student body full access to all government-related documents through the same website. Freedom of Information Act requests should not be a procedural barrier to the free flow of information, as sunshine truly is the best of disinfectants.
The cause of transparency is also aided by simplicity. And as the only necessary objective of a UW student government — once the question of segregated fees is left to the student body itself — is the question of promoting and facilitating shared governance, we believe a minimalist structure would serve this student body best. There is no need for a complex web of committees and campaigns hell-bent on passing meaningless resolutions and bullying the chancellor into black-and-white statements on issues painted in shades of grey. Rather, a basic governmental council meant to facilitate shared governance and a small judicial board to present a much-needed check on power ought to constitute the entirety of the new Student Government.
With such a manageable size, it is also reasonable to expect the direct election of all officers of the representative body. Other than making appointments to shared-governance committees, the new body should not be in the business of empowering those not directly accountable to the student body.
And so our vision is a simple one: a small student government with limited powers checked by a large student body. Such would prove the ultimate wedding of democracy and capitalism on a campus meant to prepare students for a real world dictated by those very causes, and such is a firm departure from the vast weight of ASM's current bureaucracy.