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SAO should change rules

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, November 30, 2007

There is a movement on campus to support U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in his push for the Democratic nomination for president, but it’s unfortunate that most students will never know how to join. Nor will they see posters for student groups backing Rudy Giuliani, or John Edwards, or Ron Paul.

Primary groups can’t get official club recognition from the Student Activities Office because they are inherently temporary. Student Activities officials told The Observer that prospective clubs must meet two main criteria: the ability to fit within the Catholic character of the University, and the ability to be sustained and use funds responsibly. And the Club Coordination Council, the money-allocating body of student government, doesn’t fund groups formed to support specific candidates.

In theory, that makes sense. It would be unfair to send student activity fees toward a certain candidate’s campaign. And sure, we don’t want students knocking on our dorm room doors five times a night to pitch one candidate after another. In practice, however, the system is flawed, governed by excessively rigid rules and tangled in too much bureaucratic tape.

Groups with a temporary, but important focus – such as primary clubs – should be able to apply for the right to hang posters and meet regularly on campus. It’s true that du Lac allows students to apply to host one-time rallies. But how can anyone effectively inform and mobilize interested students without continued campus advertising?

But that’s not the only problem. It takes the majority of an academic year for groups to earn club status: Apply in November; hear back in March. That kind of timeline makes it impossible to do anything quickly. In effect, that’s what the University wants – the chance to evaluate prospective clubs and weigh their potential value to the campus community. But student primary groups present a convincing case for an exception and a quicker timetable.

Notre Dame has the undesirable reputation of being a politically apathetic campus. While the University certainly isn’t alone in that regard, situations like this only worsen the problem. Allowing primary groups to advertise and meet – without necessarily allotting them any funds – would encourage greater political participation among students. And it wouldn’t hurt anyone.

This is one of those times when a specific case displays a rule’s excessive scope. Allowing for an exception is a simple change, but an important one.