So the Associated Students of Madison fail again.
Vote No members may want to take credit for running a spectacular campaign — and said as much when they recently crept drunkenly into The Badger Herald office after celebrating their victory — but there are several factors in this race that indicate the failure to pass the ASM Constitution was more the result of ASM shooting themselves in the collective foot than Vote No’s persuasive arguments.
ASM let their constitution do the talking, which is the problem. Students will not read the constitution, nor do they care to understand it. They need to know the reason for it, what it will do and if those Vote No people are right. I personally explained the Vote Yes side to about eight people in the last few days — all of them had a similar response, “Oh. Well, had that been explained to me, I would have voted the other way.”
Bottom line: Jargon can’t do the talking for you — only you can.
But the regular student body is a blank slate when it comes to ASM. Try to feed them with one argument and they’ll probably find it reasonable.
The segregated fee-funded groups are another matter, which brings us to recently resigned Student Services Finance Committee Chair Kurt Gosselin.
Regardless of what has been said on the comment boards here, I highly doubt Gosselin threatened student groups funding streams. That doesn’t mean the groups didn’t feel threatened by him, however.
A member of one General Student Services Fund group told me on the condition of anonymity that the chair of his organization was confronted by Gosselin in an elevator where he suggested he might put off an alternative funding structure for student groups when elected if the student organization leader in question backed off their support for the “No” vote.
Gosselin denied such a situation ever happened, but he did say he had discussed a new way to fund student groups. Until I see evidence from other groups that he did indeed threaten groups, I’ll assume claims of threats are still rumors. But the proposed funding stream might have played a part.
So as to not bore audiences with details, here’s the basic gist of it: Instead of GSSF groups forming around a basic service or need, ASM could decide certain services needed on campus — tutoring, diversity education, etc. — and contract with groups to provide such a service. So instead of student groups starting based on needs they want to provide, ASM would decide what services need to be provided and contract with the group that provided the best strategy to execute.
Now, Gosselin is a good man, but he does talk a lot about these sorts of nuanced strategies. He said he discussed the possible plan at length with only a few select people.
Unfortunately, included among those people were Kyle Szarzynski, Adam Porton and Chynna Haas. Considering that Haas is head of Campus Women’s Center, a GSSF-funded group and likely found this problematic, it’s not such a leap of faith to assume this talk of an alternate funding stream got around to student groups joining the chorus of no.
And frankly, this makes much more sense as to why the student groups bought into the “jeopardized funding” argument. The mere presence of an executive vetoing whole budgets only serves to slow down the process and doesn’t seem too compelling an argument. But insert the idea of an executive who already has a plan to change the entire rationale of funding, and it makes perfect sense for every funded group — especially the ones that have trouble articulating their service to campus — to oppose the new constitution.
Frankly, we could blame this whole failure on Gosselin’s big mouth, but you know what could have stopped this at the gates? Simply listening to the GSSF groups and not allowing the president to veto GSSF budgets. First off, any decision to veto those budgets is going to be mired in viewpoint neutrality suits in Student Judiciary. I wouldn’t be surprised if every group involved sued after every veto. And unless the rationale is airtight, it’s unlikely the president could have defended these vetoes with much success.
But the bigger problem is the reform that prompted this constitution had almost nothing to do with funding. It had to do with the argument that grassroots committees don’t mesh well with a governmental structure designed to uphold bureaucracy. Segregated fee funding can certainly be altered to break out of the very limited public forum our scrambling ASM ancestors came up at the beginning of this decade, but that isn’t a battle that any of us were immediately concerned with.
So can ASM try again by swatting presidential hands from the controls of the gravy train? I don’t know. That’s up to the groups to decide. But maybe it’s worth a shot. The alternative is a protracted, painful, complex set of Student Council slates and worthless posturing that will result in another year of conversations 90 percent of campus blocks out.
And if that results in more “heart to hearts” with Kyle Szarzynski at 2 a.m. in the morning to chat about how powerful the campus left is, well, count me the fuck out.
Jason Smathers ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and journalism.