Special Commentary: Associated inaction — the issues that plague our student government

by Armando Sepulveda

Public service has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. From a young age I participated in school government, whether it be safety patrol or running for class president. I knew that all I wanted to do was to help people.

Once my college career started, my enthusiasm for Associated Students couldn’t be contained. Unlike previous school governments, Associated Students has values of  diversity, professional development and advocacy. Let me reiterate my admiration of Associated Students, and my respect for the Greek community on campus. Associated Students has the ability to create a more equitable and democratic campus at its fingertips, and the philanthropic events hosted by the Greek community has given San Diego State a more positive image in our local community.

However, it is important to realize that no institution, whether government or social, is free from criticism. Especially when the status quo has created a system which leads to cronyism and inaction. That is not to say that current leaders within Associated Students are actively participating in this partisanship, nor does it mean that A.S. is not currently hard at work bettering the student body. But we do have a system. If no effort is made to reform it, the system will be turned into a political machine. In order to prevent this from occurring, we must address the issues that plague our school government, and in doing so provide solutions to these issues.

The advantage of being Greek affiliated within Associated Students is an issue. There is no problem with being a part of the Greek community and being actively involved in Associated Students. The issue arises when certain appointments are made to vacant seats within A.S..

The appointments to the vacant seats are made when  a committee of interviewers is selected, who then conduct interviews with qualified candidates. This seems simple enough and works perfectly on paper. However, these interviewers already have a conflict of interest. That gives the person being interviewed an advantage over other equally qualified candidates who may not know the interviewers. This is what occurs when Associated Students has a predominantly Greek population. Some seats may be chosen by the board leaders.

A better way to handle this situation would be to have these positions open for a special election, much like the government does whenever a seat is vacated. Or perhaps we could have a truly independent selection process, whereby the interviewers are selected by an independent council similar to a jury by the court. Either of those two options eliminates the conflict of interest. Yes, these positions are posted online and anyone can apply. However, what incentive do these people have when they already know that those conducting the interview have this conflict of interest?

Which leads us to our next problem — the lack of motivation in getting others involved.

Greek life on campus comprises roughly 15 percent of the student population, yet make up for a large portion of the vote share on campus. Unaffiliated candidates have a very difficult time winning unless they get the support of the Greeks. It is almost as if we have a primary system without any general election.

There is no incentive for other students to participate in our school government when they’ve convinced themselves they can’t win. The lack of voter engagement isn’t the fault of the leaders within Associated Students, it is the lack of incentive for them to get the campus to participate. All they need to only listen to their voters — the crucial 15 percent.

But this is not how democracy works. What Associated Students lacks is a solid voting infrastructure to keep students engaged. We rely on WebPortal to conduct these elections, mainly due to ensure no election fraud. But why don’t we actively seek ways to make it easier to participate? Who checks WebPortal other than to check their registration and grades? There is so much we can do as a student government to keep with up the times, such as creating an app and tablet voting stations.

To close I will leave with a quote from Citizenville, a book I highly recommend for Associated Students: “We’ve got to simplify, pull back all these layers of supposed complexity, and get down to the essentials. If we want people to engage with government, we should use the same tools that are getting them engaged with companies and institutions in private life. If we want people to care about political issues, we should give them a way to understand and get involved in them.”

Armando Sepulveda is a sophomore studying political science. 

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