Opinion

A call for true democracy: The administration and MCSG

My friend and colleague, Adinah Zilton, was forced to resign as Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) Chair about two weeks ago. She “resigned” (was kicked out) because of her poor academic performance last semester while going through an unhealthy relationship. In last week’s The Mac Weekly, Adinah wrote a stunning op-ed regarding her forced resignation from MCSG. I quote in part:

“Universities promote a ‘multiculturalist’ agenda through affirmative action programs, but still adhere to Western canonization in education. A connection can be made between a Western canonization in education and a canonization of student leaders on campus. Macalester promotes images of diversity, but only of those which fit its multiculturalist agenda. When someone is diverse in life experiences Macalester doesn’t approve of (aka KWOC or students with PTSD), Macalester actively chooses to hide them.”

Simply put, if College administration does not like us, we get kicked out. I implore you, do not accept this impartial logic, a logic that Adinah Zilton is a “bad student,” therefore she cannot represent and serve our peers in MCSG. Maybe she is a bad student. So what? Is the best conclusion to remove her from an elected position, or is that merely in line with their canon?

Adinah is more than deserving to be the chair of the Financial Affairs Committee. She has been involved with the FAC longer than any other student on campus, with her leadership evolving from secretary to representative to FAC Chair. Her qualifications stand, regardless of her past relationship and its effects on her grades.

This is a worrisome attack on a student’s voice and identity, and this is unacceptable.

On April 23 this spring, Joe Klein and I joined other members of KWOC in the occupation and subsequent blockade of Weyerhaeuser Hall to demand reopening the conversation with administrators regarding Macalester’s relationship to Wells Fargo. I quickly deepened my involvement with KWOC at this critical juncture, driven by my own family’s suffering at the hands of unyielding banking practices. A few years ago, my father and my brother ended long-term relationships at roughly the same time, were unable to get loan modifications after losing household income, and consequently both lost their homes. During the occupation of Weyerhaeuser, I openly shared my involvement via Facebook and word of mouth.

Incidentally, elections for MCSG occurred during this occupation and blockade. Even though I mostly abandoned my campaign in favor of protesting, I was duly re-elected by my peers to serve a second term while Joe was elected to his first term.

From this act of civil disobedience, 17 students, including Joe and me, were placed on disciplinary probation — the most severe conduct punishment assigned at Macalester short of suspension from the College or expulsion from residential halls. While on probation, even a noise violation from my dorm is grounds for immediate suspension. Specifically, probation has removed us from our elected positions on MCSG for this fall semester.

I have been prohibited from pursuing an internship and representing Mac at a college fair, while Joe was barred from being an Orientation Leader and co-chair of Mac Dems. Many others on probation have been removed from other critical leadership roles. It seems the more involved in our community we were, the harsher the punishment.

So it goes. When it comes to civil disobedience, I accept the consequences of violating College policy, even if I do not like them. While initially dismayed, I recognize the value of a process that impartially adjudicates on conduct violations.

But after the removal of Adinah as FAC Chair, I am troubled by a series of questions: If MCSG is the government of Macalester students, why can an outside entity, i.e. administration, remove elected representatives? What about sovereignty and self-determination? Where is the compassion and individualized consideration? Why should administration be able to dictate the membership of a student-founded, student-led, student-administered and student-funded government? Is probation supposed to be punitive, or is it supposed to help the student get back on track? A government supposedly for, by, and of the students? Apparently not.

The reason against student self-determination in light of probation is more convoluted and pernicious than you may think.

Article 1, Section 1 of the MCSG Constitution states in part that, “The authority of this Constitution, within the legal authority held and delegated by the Macalester College Board of Trustees, its successors and assignees, shall be derived from the Student Body.” This means that, within the bounds laid out by the Board of Trustees, students have authority over their government. As we know, we express this authority through voting for representatives. However, a closer reading reveals that, though the Board can interfere as it sees fit, some powers, including removal of student leaders, are delegated to administration. Consequently, student authority over their government becomes second to the discretion of administrators.

At the end of the day, MCSG’s autonomy and student power lay not within the bounds constitutionally delineated by the Board of Trustees, but at the convenience of College administration. This is a bastardization of our student government’s constitution and the student body’s right to self-governance.
Our removals from MCSG are a radical disrespect to the authority of students and their ability to wisely choose representatives. It constitutes a sweeping attack on the right of students to exercise their authority through binding elections. Furthermore, these removals undercut the legitimacy of our student government. Through the systematic weeding out of “subversive” and “undesirable” students, the assumption of legitimate representation based on democratic student expression breaks down.

We must end the current order — an order that subjects student representatives to a test of social compliance regardless of the electoral expression of students. It is my unqualified opinion that student representatives should be accountable to fellow students and students only. Additionally, I unyieldingly believe that every experience, epistemology, and opinion deserves respect and should be welcome in MCSG.

Thus, I call for a reform of the relationship between Macalester College and the students’ government. I believe a few simple changes can resolve this undemocratic contradiction:
1. The only condition of membership of MCSG is open election by student peers.
2. A student’s academic or disciplinary standing or any expression of opinion shall not affect eligibility for leadership roles or membership in any organization that derives power from students, including MCSG-appointed positions and student organizations chartered by MCSG.

These recent instances of administrative overstep reveal that MCSG lacks sovereignty and independent authority over itself. It shows that administration tampers in matters that pertain only to students. These removals indicate that “undesirables” like Adinah, Joe, and I are unacceptable representatives of student opinion by administrative standards.
And despite its power deriving directly from students, our student government is subject to the whims of College administration.

The Student Handbook states that “sanctions are intended to be educational in nature, and designed to fit the specific nature of the situation and student involved.” The most educational part of this rigmarole? Certain voices, situations, and experiences are explicitly unwelcome at Macalester. We ought not stand for this.

September 27, 2013

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