Illustration by Moonie Sohn/The Gazelle

Amendment XVII won't increase GA attendance

On Feb.16 the General Assembly of the Student Government debated a proposed Amendment XVII to the Constitution. The amendment was proposed in reaction ...

Mar 1, 2014

Illustration by Moonie Sohn/The Gazelle
On Feb.16 the General Assembly of the Student Government debated a proposed Amendment XVII to the Constitution. The amendment was proposed in reaction to perennially low participation in Student Government meetings, committees and elections, which Student Government is trying to improve through the elimination of attendance requirements for Active Membership within the General Assembly.
To be fair, low participation in the Student Government is somewhat disturbing to those involved, considering the level of impact that the Student Government executes on a daily basis. As such, these attendance requirements have long been a target of Student Government administrations seeking a remedy. However, as a long time participant within the Student Government, it seems strange to me that this is the measure that our Executive Board has proposed to spend time on when low participation is clearly just a symptom of larger issues that we have yet to address. That is, this amendment is merely a Band-Aid to cover a much larger wound, and as such, it will not only be ineffective but also detrimental to the structure of our Student Government.
The larger issue at hand is a subtle but pervasive one. It can be seen in the continued divide between the freshmen and seniors or between Emiratis and non-Emiratis. It can be seen in low event participation and unfulfilled RSVPs. It can be seen in stairwell graffiti and fish poisonings. What I’m referring to are symptoms of a larger cultural problem within our community, a problem that I believe has more to do with inconsistent and misunderstood values within our university than attendance requirements. These cultural and social misunderstandings comprise a much harder problem that we need to confront, rather than spending time undermining the structure of our unique system of self-governance.
Returning to specifics, I would like to point out that the idea of Amendment XVII is not as great of an idea as it might seem at first glance. Given that many of us have a very strong inclination towards a pure, democratic ideal, it may be a strange proposition, but I believe that such requirements for complete participation are necessary precisely because of these larger issues that we are facing. That is, in the face of decreased real activism, I have to ask why we should remove the only structural incentive that we have to regular participation in the General Assembly. If I can vote whenever I want without any caveats, why should I suddenly be more inclined to exert this right? We can observe the opposite happening around us every day when free events go unattended and RSVPs go unfulfilled.
Furthermore, I believe that the removal of these attendance requirements will dilute the potency of General Assembly debates and diminish its efficacy as a policy-making body. This is because without a continuously invested group of students, it is difficult to carry issues from one meeting to the next, and it is harder to explain the structural and administrative context in which some of this work must occur. Especially given that complete action on issues often takes weeks if not months, it makes sense that it would help to have the same core group of students to offer amendments and make decisions. Note, this is not the same as saying that there should be a group of students who have selected themselves to be in charge of these decisions with barriers for others to enter that group. This should be clear from the fact that the attendance requirement hardly offers a barrier to continued participation and that previous amendments to the requirement have not seen any corresponding increase in attendance. Instead, I think that there is a significant advantage to incentivizing the maintenance of a committed and interested body of students.
I am concerned about Amendment XVII, which I believe will have grave consequences within the Student Government, also because we need to recognize that our community has some larger issues concerning cultural and social divisions, as well as a lack of civic duty and responsibility. Specifically, Amendment XVII will not increase Student Government participation and may in fact undermine its efficacy, and it certainly will not solve any of our general problems. Instead, we should ask our Student Government to consider these larger issues, rather than how many people come to their meetings.
gazelle logo