Yes, it’s belated. Yes, I have been told, and argued myself, that no rational human being could possibly give the most trifling of shits about this university’s student government.

But given the impending end of a year that saw the Associated Students of Madison’s most ambitious effort at reform go down in the lukewarm flames of misinterpretation, the succeeding months of silence beg the question: How has our student government defined itself? What, in the absence of real reform, did ASM do?

As always, the fundamental concern with the organization has been, well, that it is difficult to really discern what was accomplished because it is so difficult to care. Indeed, with a student turnout of 8.3 percent in an election that saw the most comprehensive effort to seize control by any strong ideological group in recent history, no one can accuse ASM’s members of obsessive outreach.

And yet, in the absence of creating a strong institutional paradigm, ASM’s Student Services Finance Committee’s budgetary efforts shed a good degree of light on what the group’s overriding philosophy has been for the past year. That message has been one of relative — and welcome — fiscal conservatism.

Take SSFC’s decision to deny funding for Collegians For A Constructive Tomorrow. Already written off by the majority of informed students as a clan of right-wing hacks, the group outdid itself with a recent pamphlet in which it bizarrely linked Earth Day to a Leninist plot. Wisconsin‘s own Gaylord Nelson was compared to Nikita Khrushchev for deciding to place Earth Day on April 22, which is, coincidentally, Lenin’s birthday. Or as CFACT so eloquently implied in its pamphlet, Nelson consciously did this to insidiously work communism into the environmental discourse.

Pamphlet and McCarthyite worldview aside, when the SSFC denied funding for the neoconservative goon squad, it was making a decision that indicates one step in the right direction has been followed by another. According to former Chair and current Student Council member Kurt Gosselin, CFACT was denied funding for two major reasons.

First of all, they forgot a bunch of paperwork. Kind of essential when you are requesting tens of thousands of dollars of somebody else’s money.

However, the primary reason for denying funding to CFACT, along with denying five other applicants, is the organization failed to provide a direct service to students. Their main objective as a group seemed, to the committee, to emphasize bringing speakers to campus. And given their inability to demonstrate even a minimum of intellectual integrity with their own advocacy, one can only wonder as to who CFACT would consider qualified to speak in the coming year.

Gosselin indicated this denial on the basis of a dearth of real services to the student body has been fundamental since ASM adopted this approach last year. And the aggregate results reflect this. Overall, the amount of money doled out by the General Student Services Fund declined by $300,000 for next year’s budget. Part of this was the result of cutting certain groups off the payroll; the rest emanated from SSFC’s effort to curve the spending of certain groups while continuing to fund them. The Multicultural Student Center‘s proposed budget was $343,000. SSFC cut it down to $273,000. Given the group’s at best marginal usefulness, the decision is worthy of (tentative) relief.

And while ASM clearly has an image problem, a coherence problem and a preponderance of ideologies that may once again drag intellectual bickering to the fore at the expense of competence, when it comes to spending your money, SSFC has shown it deserves some respect. Students deserve the highest degree of accountability when their money is dispensed to groups, especially when the possibility of those groups being certifiably insane is so real. While CFACT’s debacle is only one extreme example of the fiscal clusterfuck that could have ensued had our budding bureaucrats not done their jobs, it is a pleasant relief to see a measure of responsibility. And no, coverage of ASM will not undergo a sudden revelation. Our student government will remain, in most aspects, a subject of derision or non-recognition. But at least the money you don’t know you give to SSFC is in responsible hands.

Sam Clegg ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in economics.