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Senator’s plan, actions against student government purpose

Staff Editorial | Friday, November 9, 2007

Senator Jim Lockwood’s plan to force the student body president to report on the meetings of the Community/Campus Advisory Coalition (CCAC) is wise. It promotes full communication, increased awareness and transparency for the newly formed group, which asks representatives from area colleges and the city to advise the South Bend Common Council on neighborhood concerns related to the colleges.

But Lockwood’s idea to give the Senate the power to dictate what the president can say – and even the ability to censure the president’s words – is as terrible as the first plan is good.

Lockwood’s expressed desire to minimize the role of the presidency, including a plan to force the president to read statements by the Student Senate to the CCAC when the senators disagree with the president, eliminates the united front and effective energy that Notre Dame needs in a student leader. Without Liz Brown’s unquestioned leadership this summer, off-campus students would likely be worried about filing permits for parties a week and a half ahead of time. If she had to worry about what senators thought of her every word choice – and the threat of public humiliation if she had to explain that other representatives disagreed with her – she might not have succeeded. If South Bend officials knew she was controlled so tightly by other students, it would have minimized the respect they offered her. Lockwood’s plan would make students less able to present a clear, powerful voice in public debates.

Worse, Lockwood devised his plan in a way that mocks transparency and openness in student government. During summer discussions over the party permit ordinance, Brown, as president, acted as a capable and professional representative of the student body. When she took the initiative, it helped fundamentally change the ordinance from a draconian measure into something much more acceptable. And she was open about the process, meetings and ideas.

Meanwhile, Lockwood sent an e-mail to his dorm that he “and another senator” were working on a plan to reshape student government, remove a certain amount of power from the office of the president and redistribute it among the student representatives. There can be merit to this plan, but not when a senator goes about it in the way Lockwood did. He told his residents he had a “master plan” but did not want to say any more for “fear of alerting” those at whom the plan was directed.

The question is obvious: Why should we shift power from the executive to the representatives when the latter are going about plans to remake student government in secret and the former is representing our interests well and in public?

The senator later sent a second e-mail out to Siegfried, complaining, among other things, that The Observer made it look like he had an “ulterior motive” to the resolution to force the president to report on the CCAC’s meetings. It may have appeared that way only because he did have an ulterior motive. It was clear in Lockwood’s first e-mail that he was going to use the initial amendment – harmless by itself – as a first step to curtailing the powers of the presidency.

That plan may be democratic, but Lockwood’s methods were anything but.