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April 05, 1985 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1985-04-05

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OPINION

Page 4

Friday, April 5, 1985

The Michigan Daily

Ete a a bsat n Ma n
Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

MSA:Lobbying or students

Vol. XCV, No. 147

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, M 48109

Editorials represent a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board

Getting out the vote

A SERIES OF proposals announced
by Democratic members of the
Michigan legislature on Wednesday is
an important response to an om-
nipresent problem in democratic
societies-getting constituents to ac-
tually vote.
The proposals, some of which will be
introduced as bills by the end of the
month, call for a mail-in voter
registration program, limited election
day registration, and postponement of
the voter registration deadline.
Registration is only- the first step in
voting, of course, but it is necessary to
guard against intrusions by people out-
side the constituency and against con-
stituents voting more than once. Un-
fortunately, it also has the effect of
making it more. difficult for some
qualified constituents to cast their
votes.
In a well-functioning democracy,
most of the constituents would be
aware enough of the political process
to insure that they were currently and
correctly registered.
Unfortunately, practice has shown
that a large number of eligible voters
fail to register and therefore eliminate
themselves from taking part in a fun-

damental privilege of their society.
According to figures from the
Michigan secretary of state, over one-
tenth of the voting age population is not
registered. Rep. Perry Bullard (D.-
Ann Arbor) says the percentage is as
high as 30 percent.
Whatever the actual numbers are,
they are appallingly high. Those voters
who fail to register should still have the
right to help select state, local and
national representatives.
The Democratic proposals acknow-
ledge the difficulty many have
in registering to vote months or weeks
in advance of elections, and provide
some logical solutions. The more op-
portunities constituents have to
register, the more likely they are to do
so.
The proposals are not a panacea for
voter apathy, however, because there
still exists the possibility that
registered voters will not go to the polls
and vote. Nevertheless, the
Democratic proposals easing
registration standards are an impor-
tant step in making it easier for
residents of Michigan to influence the
decisions that effect their lives.

By Richard Layman
Third in a series
Recently, Kevin Michaels-a candidate for
MSA president who was not identified as
such-wrote an article entitled "MSA has
skewed priorities (Daily, March 21)." As
someone with the dubious benefit of a much
longer perspective than Michaels on both the
Michigan Student Assembly and the question
of student participation in academic gover-
nance in general, I wish to challenge
Michaels's assertions.
First, he states "MSA has a poor image on
campus which =promotes student apathy
towards the assembly and lack of respect
from the Michigan administration." He says
furtper that the reason for this is MSA's
"being.too radical and unrepresentative of
student views."
I wish that MSA's problems were that sim-
ple. The fact is, MSA is not a governing body,
but is much more of a lobbying organization
for student concerns on a variety of issues.
MSA is a lobbying organization because
student "government" is not systematically
integrated into the decision-making struc-
tures of the University. MSA mostly reacts to
University initiatives when they are per-
ceived as anti-student. And student ability to
impact decisions is still predicated upon the
good will of administrators, the regents, and
the faculty. Sound argumentation often goes
for naught.
Think for a minute about administrative
participation on university issues. Par-
ticipants are paid for full-time work. They are
involved with the same issues year after year
and develop expertise. They have access to
support staff (one full time support person is
at least four students each working ten hours
a week). Their funding is relatively secure.
They control access to information and
decision-makers. Finally, they set the agenda
for action.
MSA grovels every two years for funding,
after getting jerked around by the Office of
Student Services. Access to information and
decision-makers is restricted. (Witness the
University's refusal to release the Sudarkasa
report on improving the recruitment and
retention of minority students even after a
Freedom of Information Act request.)
MSA has one full-time staff member who
must try to oversee the office as well as help
the assembly help students. MSA has a
limited number of part-time student em-
ployees who are often no more expert than the
assembly members they are supposed to
assist. Students do not work full-time on
issues and generally are not paid for their
participation. After developing a modicum of
expertise, they graduate, leaving another
group of students to start anew.
It is in this arena that the Michigan Student
Assembly operates-reactive, with limited
access to information and decision-makers, in
a transient organization, with limited funds.
MSA's "poor image" is the result of a number
of factors, many out of control of MSA.
Without providing any evidence, Michaels
states that other in-state student governmen-
ts are much more effective than MSA (though
they are faced with the same structural
situation). If one measures student support
by participation in elections-the Univer-
sity's average of 13 percent is higher than
Oakland's 10 percent (the prime example in
Michael's article) and the other state univer-
sities-MSA stacks up well.
Furthermore, administrative "respect" is
more often co-operation by administrators
(the same documented practice by elites in
power in countries like Mexico and the
Phillipines) with tokens like parking permits
and praise (while derailing substantive stud-
ent-initiated change). Is this the respect that
Michaels talks about-praise, as a reward for
acquiesence to the status quo?
Second, Michaels asserts that MSA's poor
image is the result of a solely off-campus ap-
proach to involvement. He fails to provide
substantive evidence for this position as well.
Admittedly, in the past (but years before
Mary Rowland, whom he excoriates) MSA
had a habit of "endorsing" off-campus
Layman is the editor of ADVICE,

MSA 's course evaluation booklet.

political events in places like New York and
Washington. Yet, since Amy Moore (one
president before Rowland) this has not been
the case.
Under Moore, for example, MSA was ac-
tively involved in the question of military
research on campus and the budgetary
reviews of the Schools of Art, Education, and
Natural Resources. In addition, MSA adopted
a new health insurance plan which offered
students more coverage for a better price.
Mary Rowland can take a lot of the credit
for the organization of opposition to a proposed
student code of non-academic conduct and
for the reorganization of the Ann Arbor
Tenants Union, which is partially funded by
student fees. The first MSA Housing Fair was
organized that year also.
This year, MSA is active again on the
code, has focused significant attention upon
minority student recruitment and retention
(this started under Rowland), and is working
to settle some problems with Student Legal
Services, a student-funded program.
In painting MSA "radical," Michaels wears
away the distinction betwen events organized
by campus student organizations - (but not
directly affiliated with MSA) and partially
funded via MSA's Budget Priorities Commit-
tee and the Michigan Student Assembly
proper. He then attacks MSA for events it
doesn't organize.
MSA has no control (nor should it) over
students who organize themselves to provide
educational activities to the University com-
munity. It may be that many of these students
have "left of center" viewpoints, but that fails
to negate either the validity of their views or
their right to apply for funds.
It isn't overstating the case to say that
Michaels is deliberately misleading on this
issue. If "conservative" students would spend
some of their time organizing comparable
events, instead of just attacking those who
have organized, the entire University com-
munity would benefit from the presentation of
a greater variety of programs. Furthermore,
just because he disagrees with the."ideology"
of the organizers, he shouldn't attack their
right to present their views, especially when
others of his ilk are doing nothing but
criticizing.
Personally, I don't feel that MSA should
give any funds to such events. Not because I
don't support them-I do, and I have
organized such events which recieved MSA
funding-but because our needs as an assem-
bly are so great that we can't afford to give up
25 percent of our budget each year for one-
shot events with a limited long-term impact
on campus. (Unfortunately, the University
doesn't value such programs enough to assign
a miniscule part of the endowment towards
their ongoing support.)
Third, he nails MSA for "educating"
students. What is a university for but
education? How can people make intelligent
decisions if they are uninformed?
Under Moore, for example, the MSA News
ran special issues focusing on budget reviews,
on legal education, military research on cam-
pus, and divestment of University investmen-
ts in South Africa. All of these issues were
particularly relevant to campus concerns at
that time.
one can argue that MSA should be
congratulated for supporting the MSA
News- "an analytical journal of
opinion' - albeit with a leftist bent, because it
augments the marketplace of opinion
available on campus. Certainly, neither the
Daily nor the Michigan Review (when it
publishes) regularly provide such viewpints.
I don't think that anyone affiliated with
MSA believes that students can't make up
their own minds. Yet we do support the con-
sideration of multiple viewpoints before coing
to final decisions on issues. (Yes, there are
more than two sides to an issue.) By finan-
cially supporting forums, speakers, the MSA
News, and other activities, the Michigan
Student Assembly helps people help them-
selves.
Michaels "blames" student non-
participation on MSA. A better explanation
for "student apathy" relates to issue salience.
It begs the question to call students apathetic.
Most students view their college career as
time-limited and career-directed. Issues like

military research on campus or the proposed
code of non-academic conduct are distant to

the everyday concerns of most students. More
salient concerns are specifically related to
their academic programs; these are most
properly dealt with by college student gover-
nments and student departmental
associations. MSA is set up to address issues
of concern to all students-that is why MSA is
the campus-wide student government.
Michaels talks about MSA reprioritizing
goals, withouf offering any. As I see it, MSA
has at least three major responsibilities. Fir-
st, to represent student concerns and in-
terests to faculty and administrators on a
variety of issues over both the short and in-
termediate term. Second, to help satisfy more
immediate and basic student needs (by spon-
soring a housing affair, providing health in-
surance, funding legal services for students
etc.). Third, to serve current and futureI
students as a trustee for their interests vis-a-
vis the administration. These roles encom-
pass immediate and future concerns; spoken
and unspoken; within the University and with
regard to University-State and University-
federal relations, with a view towards the
long run.
Michaels attempts to carve out areas of
responsibility between MSA, "national," And
"statewide" student governments. This is
problematic because student concerns and
needs can't be so easily compartmentalized.
For example,.one could argue that financial
aid is strictly an on-campus concern because
students use their financial aid to pay for
their education in Ann Arbor. What about
federal programs for the state Department of
Education? "Student" issues have multiple
actors, on campus and off, simultaneously.
With regard to the University-state
relations, the University is constitutionally
autonomous. Therefore, the state is con-
strained in its ability to influence the Univer-
sity, as is statewide student government. Of
course, state allocations to the University are
a means of influence, but who is to say that we
can convince the legislature to act for the best
interest of students as We see it - as opposed to
how the University sees it. (Consider also that
University administrators and lobbyists en-
joy great respect in the halls of Lansing; they
visit often, and have developed relationships
with legislators over time.)
With regard to "national" issues-student
financial aid or the possibility of a draft, or
the federal deficit, or whatever, who is to say
that students shouldn't be concerned with these
issues both as students and as citizens? The
fact is, the University of Michigan has studen-
ts enrolled from every congressional district
in the state and from many across the coun-
try.
MSA shouldn't cede our participation in this
venue to the United States Student
Association like Michaels suggests. We
shouldn't use it to augment what we do, and
for training. Unfortunately, USSA's major ac-
tivities come towards the end of an MSA
member's term. This makes it hard to justify
spending student money for USSA activities
when it is likely that the MSA members sent
won't be returning to MSA for another
year-in effect, wasting students' monies. (In
this arena, we need to address how best
should MSA attempt to influence such issues.
At this point, I am unure myself.)
Michaels is right on one point. There are too
many problems on campus. They need to be
solved. But they must be addressed in-
telligently. Effective solutions require
significant thought, discussion, and resour-
ces.
By itself, how can MSA be expected to
"solve University problems" when it
possesses neither the resources to adequately
address them nor the power to adopt solutions
and effect change? How can MSA be expected
to have influence when it is systematically
denied access to information? How can MSA
have influence when students who are active,
articulate, and committed to the student in-
terest are blackballed by those faculty and
administrators who are satisfied with the way
things are now?
By attacking specific groups and in-
dividuals-failing to take a structural ap-
proach to student participation in University
governance and to MSA in par-
ticular-Michaels succeeds in nothing but
provoking my anger. MSA needs more people
involved who can both think and act. Students
will have to make their own decision about

Michaels ideas. I already have.

Unpleasant reminder

EVERLY SILLS' talk at
Rackham Auditorium was a boon
for the Ann Arbor fine art community,
but at the same time recalled the ap-
palling lack of support for the arts
from the federal government
Sills is one of the greatest opera stars
that the United States has ever
produced. Her visit to Ann Arbor
reiterates what many community
members have long known: Ann Arbor
is one of the most exciting cultural cen-
ters in the country.
Although Sills proclaimed that she
thought the "state of the arts" was
fine, they may not continue to remain
so without the subsidies they have
come to depend on from the federal
government.
Since his reelection, President
Reagan has attempted to undercut
funding for the arts in a couple of dif-
ferent ways.
Originally he called for cuts in the
National Endowment for the Arts, thus

making it more difficult for cultural
events across the country to receive
funding directly from the government.
He then claimed that the private sec-
tor would be able to make up for the
lost funds.
Later, his treasury department
proposed limiting income tax
deductions for donations to cultural
events. With less incentive, it seems
unlikely that the private sector would
be willing to make up for the cuts that
Reagan proposed.
Without what Sills calls, "a sense of
respect for the arts," from the federal
government, cultural events may not
continue to flourish. Regrettably, the
fine arts are not always commercially
viable, but as they represent much of
the finest work in human history, they
should continue to be supported.
Sills' visit was inspiring, but
simultaneously disturbing considering
her reminder of Reagan 's commit-
ment to the fine arts.

- l
m A

Letters
Call them residence halls, not dorms

To the Daily:
The Residence Halls
Association would like to com-
mend your editorial of March 26,
1985, titled "Think twice". You
captured well the essence of
residence hall life. Our work in
RHA is committed to promoting
and improving the unique ex-
perience of living in a residence
hall.
We would like to add one thing.
your editorial depicts well the
abundance of activities in

"halls" for short. Residence hall
better represents what Univer-
sity housing strives to be - an
educational/residential com-
munity. If The Michigan Daily
could refrain from using "dorm"
and print "hall" or "residence

hall" instead, we and the Housing
Division would appreciate it
greatly.
Thank you again for the good
words on behalf of residence
halls. We hope a positive attitude

continues to grow.
- Mark-Hegedus
March 29
Hegedus is President of the.
Residence Halls Association.
by Berke Breathed

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