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Student government’s priorities misplaced

Staff Editorial | Friday, October 19, 2007

Student body president Liz Brown and vice president Maris Braun said Tuesday they are considering a push for student government support of the DREAM Act, a bill now pending in the United States Senate.

The DREAM Act would provide a pathway to legal immigration status for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally before they were 16 years old, have graduated from high school and commit two years to college education or military service.

Individual members of student government are right to have interest in issues that extend far beyond the stereotypical student concerns of grade point averages, social lives and career trajectories. And the DREAM Act is good legislation.

But a student government resolution intended – at least symbolically – to influence the United States Senate is far out of line with the mission of student government and demonstrates why so many students are apathetic toward student government.

Even worse, Brown’s administration has no reported plans to test student opinion before stating the support of student government for this important but controversial national bill.

“As much as I’m all for establishing consensus,” Braun said, “we might just have to do the best thing and the right thing. I just worry we’re going to run out of time.”

Such lighthearted commitment to measuring and respecting student opinion would be an arrogant move.

Other student government leaders present at the Council of Representatives meeting Tuesday questioned the haste and purpose of an official show of support.

One member warned that the entertainment of such a measure could set a precedent for student government to spend its time engaging the limitless issues of national and international significance. Such a precedent would threaten the quality of services provided by student government, which already operates within the constraints imposed by the full-time academic obligations of its members.

Perhaps the wisest comment delivered at the COR meeting came from chief executive assistant Sheena Plamoottil, who noted that student government can provide students with resources for learning about and expressing support for the bill without committing itself to a total show of support for the legislation.

Still, student government is elected to provide leadership on issues of importance and relevance to the student body. On Thursday, Brown told Board of Trustees members that she had never seen students so fired up about student government and political action until student government took on South Bend’s proposed party permit ordinance this summer. There is a reason the student body got interested and got involved: Student government was working within its means to address an issue relevant to its constituents.

Campus-elected leaders appearing to worry more about national politics than community concerns is a surefire way to return to the days when most students were apathetic toward a student government they believed was ineffectual, aloof and unnecessary.

If student body leaders feel strongly about the DREAM Act, they should provide resources for students to learn more about hot-button political issues and ways to support or fight them.

But to commandeer student government resources in support of a national political issue – without even attempting to measure student opinion – is neither “the best thing” nor “the right thing.”