Editor's Note: The author of this article had previously served as Chair of the now-dissolved Library Committee before resigning in January 2015.
This year’s Student Government has done an exceptional job of working to advocate for students. After a transition to a new campus, the Student Government has consistently made strides to work towards improvements and redress student concerns. It solidified NYU Abu Dhabi’s seat on the university’s broader Student Senators Council, worked to reshape the Core Curriculum and aided in the establishment of a more sustainable campus. Above all, those on Student Government have remained an approachable and reasonable group.
The recent Library Committee crisis proves no different. Although detractors in the now-dissolved Library Committee, called NYUAD Library Committee, would like you to believe theirs is a case of an oppressive government against an innocent student advocacy group, this narrative couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In its efforts to establish a 24-hour library, the Library Committee had conducted a campaign titled “I need a 24-hour library because…” At first glance, this was all well and good. I for one wouldn’t mind a 24-hour library. Truthfully, most so-called prestigious universities do have 24-hour libraries.
However, Student Government never approved the campaign. In fact, they stated in multiple communiqués with the committee that they would not support it because the administration had made clear there was no funding for a 24-hour library. The committee would be providing false hope.
Nevertheless, the committee went forward, citing approval from the library administration. It was then that Student Government acted. To reassert authority over the committee, Student Government had the campaign posters taken down, as the posters blatantly contradicted Executive Board directions.
Here we see three major parties: Student Government, the Library Committee and the administration. In a properly functioning system, the administration is at the top of the chain of command and makes major campus-wide decisions.
Then there is Student Government, the official student conduit for relaying concerns to the administration, whose members are elected by the student body.
Last, there are the Student Government committees, like the Library Committee, that function under Student Government appointment and relay student concerns to administration members, subject to Executive Board approval. Hypothetically, committees are supposed to be semi-autonomous of Student Government in order to relieve the Executive Board from some of its various burdens.
In the case of the Library Committee, we have a committee gone rogue. At various points, committee leadership explicitly chose to ignore Student Government orders, claiming to represent the opinion of the students. They bounced the members of administration and Student Government off of each other to their advantage.
Granted, usually this undermining of Student Government legitimacy would have gone unnoticed. The library is a seemingly minute and apolitical piece of student life. However, it was ultimately the Library Committee’s refusal to accede to direct Student Government order that led to their downfall.
In the weeks that followed, there were Student Government inquiries into the committee — attempts to reconcile whatever differences had arisen. These efforts failed. Not only that, but the commentary made on Executive Board officials had been unbecoming of committee leadership.
Thus, after weeks of Executive Board review, Student Government cast a vote of no confidence against the committee chair. Unfortunately for Student Government, with the ousting of committee leadership, the entire committee resigned in protest.
It is easy to look quickly at this story and blame Student Government. Who doesn’t love a David and Goliath scenario, especially one that positions the underdog as protecting free speech? In reality, however, the Student Government acted to shut down an opaque group that endangered and misused student opinion in university affairs.
Elected officials represent the true will of the people in a democracy, not the loudest person in the audience. When an unelected body claims power over public opinion in a democracy, it undermines the legitimacy of all involved. The members of Student Government are not a tyrannical bunch, censoring free speech as they see fit. If anything, they defended it. In the case of this incident, only votes determine who may speak as the ultimate voice of the people.
Tom Klein is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.