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September 04, 1986 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1986-09-04

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 4, 1986 -Page 13Ak
MSA seeks credibility and respect on campus

The University's Board of Regents
recognizes the Michigan Student
Assembly, as the official student
voice in University decision-
making. Despite this decree, MSA
struggles for respect from both ad-
ministrators and students.
Many students, even some on the
assembly, call MSA a joke, especially
because administrators don't always
listen to the assembly's positions.
The term "student government" is
a misnomer, assembly members say,
because they neither make nor enfor-
ce University policies. Members
complain that MSA gets little respect
from administrators, and that com-
munication easily breaks down over
issues where MSA and the ad-
ministration disagree.
Administrators don't always listen
Although the regents recognized
MSA as the "legitimate student
govenment" in 1976, they have never
specified where the assembly's
powers extend. As a result, MSA
leaders have often clashed with ad-
ministrators over the assembly's role
in setting University policies.
While MSA's constitution gives the
assembly sole perogative to appoint
students to serve on all University-
wide commissions. The administration
tbus arbitrarily ignore MSA's wishes.
Last fall, for example, ad-
ministrators overruled MSA protests
when University President Harold
Shapiro allowed student governments
from each school and college in the
University to nominate students to
review the University's classified
research guidelines.
Regent Thomas Roach (D-Saline)
said administrators do not rely com-
pletely on MSA to find out what
students are thinking. "We don't have
the impression that just because the
student body president says
something, that's what all students
Students complain
Students often complain that MSA
passes too many politically charged
resolutions at its Tuesday night
meetings. Last fall, the assembly of-
ficially denounced Vice President
George Bush's speech on campus
commemorating the Peace Corps'
25th Anniversary.
The action set off a barrage of

criticism from both inside and outside
MSA, from those who said the assem-
bly was not in touch with what studen-
ts think.
Only about 15 percent of students,
voted in last year's MSA elections.
The engineering school's student
government has clashed with MSAs
liberal stances on several occasions,
particularily whenever MSA opposes
weapons research on campus.
MSA members insist students must
distinguish the controversial political
stances MSA takes at its Tuesday
night meetings from the dozens of
other things it does - such as
allocating money to other student
- .
... moderate MSA President
The assembly has also tried to com-
bat its image problem with improved
constituent contact. Last year, the
assembly manned an information
table in the Fishbowl, and set up a
phone line for students to bring their
problems to the assembly's attention.
Both efforts drew only a modest stud-
ent response.
Assembly members say they will
try new techniques this year, in-
cluding a radio segment on WCBN
and a redesigned version of their
Campus Report magazine.
Internal disputes
The conflict between a politicized
and a non-politicized assembly have
also brought bickering among assem-
bly members.
Last spring, a moderate assembly
member, Kurt Muenchow, was elec-

ted president largely through the
votes of engineering students who
were dissatisfied with the previous
assembly's liberal slant. However,
liberal assembly members from the
Student Rights party still retained a
majority of assembly seats and
nearly all committee chair positions.
An all-consuming conflict between
Muenchow and Student Rights mem-
bers began during the election cam-
paigns, when both parties engaged in
vicious mudslinging. For the first
three months after the election,
meeting were often taken up with
long, heated debates as Students
Rights representatives tried to
maneuver for power on the assembly,
and Muenchow and his supporters
fought back by refusing to pay
assembly employees who supported
Student Rights.
During the summer, the hostility
became so intense that many feared it
would immobilize the assembly. A
professional mediator was hired at
$50 an hour to try to smooth the con-
Does have an effect
Despite its problems, the assembly
has managed to influence both
University and state government
policies by lobbying on behalf of
student interests.
For example, two years ago some
MSA members saw the need for a
rape counseling center at the Univer-
sity. To make their concerns known,
they organized a sit-in in the office of
Henry Johnson, the Vice President
for Student Affairs. The students' ef-
forts resulted in the formation of the
Rape Crisis Center, which opened in
the Union last year.
Recently, MSA also helped organize
a night-time escort service so studen-
ts would not have to walk alone, and
articulated student opposition to the
code of non-academic conduct
proposed by the administration.
Assembly representatives on the Ex-
ternal Affairs committee take several
trips to Lansing each year to lobby the
state government for increases in
education funding and financial aid
The assembly is funded primarily
by the $5.07 assessed from each
student per term.
Most of the assembly budget goes to

two professional services which it
operates. These are Student Legal
Services, which provides free counsel
to students. and the Ann Arbor Tenan-
ts Union, which looks out for the in-
terests of students in off-campus'
MSA allocates much of its budget to
fund other student organizations and

student input into campus decision-
"In the '70s, administrators were
afraid of student government. Now
the administration knows this is,
Yuppieville, USA, and they know
there is only a small core of students
that is going to oppose them," Kraus

'We don't have the impression that just
because the student body president says
something, that's what all students think.'
-Regent Thomas Roach

Work offers advantages
Despite their problems, MSA mem-
bers say their work has advantages
Of course, it can be a stepping stone r
future employment, but assembly
work offers more immediate rewards.
Like other campus groups, the
assembly provides a chance to
develop organizational and leadership
skills. Moreover it's a place to learn
about University politics.
"It's one of the few organizations
where you are in contact with the ad-
ministrators directly. You can seg
that you can chage the university arid
make it better, or prevent things from
happening," said Jen Faigel, former
chair of MSA's Women's Issues
MSA is one of few organizations than
brings together students from every
school, both undergraduate and
graduate, with widely varying career
goals and political viewpoints.
"MSA can plug into any interests,
that students have, from finances to,
management to social issues. There is
some place at MSA for everybody,"a
Muenchow said.

student-sponsored events on campus.
The assembly also puts out a monthly
newspaper, the MSA Campus Report,
and Advice, the course evaluations
With these and an array of other
responsibilities, MSA's greatest
liability is its workload. In the past,
MSA's duties have been left to 37
assembly members, several paid
staff people and volunteers who serve
on assembly committees. Since most
assembly members are full time
students, classwork limits the time
they can devote to assembly matters,
so they often put constituent contact
or committee work on the back bur-
Attempting to lighten the burden,
the assembly last year retrenched its
entire structure and added thirteen
new assembly seats, to make a total of
50 representatives.
But assembly members say the key
to the assembly's effectiveness in
more student involvement, a goal
which has not been realized.
Former MSA Vice President Phil Cole
said he does not take stock in "people
on the sidelines who are throwing in
plays to the quarterback."
"This campus is considered active,
along with (University of California-
Berkeley, but percentage-wise,
students really are not that involved,"
Cole said.
MSA representative Ed Kraus said
the lack of student involvement is not
only frustrating, but endangers

Kraus added that apathy is a
problem even within the assembly. "I
came to a university where I thought I
was going to find a lot of long-haired
students who were interested in
issues. You want studens to care,
(but) there are actual representatives
who don't seem to care themselves,"
he said.



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