Saxa Politica: GUSA’s democratic deficit

March 19, 2009

The Georgetown University Student Association has long suffered from a democratic deficit: students often feel detached from the organization and see it as uninterested in their needs. To a large extent, this image is unwarranted. Over the past several years, the Student Association has developed into a respectably effective organization, thanks to a string of committed presidents and a number of institutional reforms.

But at the same time, GUSA retains some disappointing tendencies, not least of which is the perennial absenteeism of some of its elected officials. A month ago, the Senate voted to expel nine senators who consistently missed meetings; those spots have yet to be filled, leaving a large number of students unrepresented.

While kicking the truant senators out is promising in that it sets a precedent that will discourage representatives from shirking their duties in the future, it does present a new problem: in order to replace the expellees, GUSA will need to hold new online elections, which are tentatively scheduled to take place in two weeks.

As anyone who has followed GUSA knows, GUSA elections do not tend to bolster the student body’s faith in the democratic process. From incorrect application of Instant Run-off Voting to 11th-hour disqualifications, four of the last six GUSA presidential elections could be accurately described as fiascos, reinforcing students’ perception of GUSA as an organization overwhelmed by the weight of its own bylaws and so concerned with internal structure that it is unable to focus on the very real problems facing this campus.

Senate elections tend to be quieter, but the ad hoc nature of the election to fill these emptied seats stirs anxiety. Election Commissioner Mirco Haag (SFS ’09) seems slightly terrified at the prospect: “I may have to resign,” he joked.

Hopefully the Senate and the Election Commission will be able to put together an election swiftly and smoothly. Having seen firsthand what happens when communication is limited and rules are unclear, this commission should be committed to keeping things clean.

But this doesn’t change the fact that in recent years GUSA has habitually failed to provide functional elections. The Student Association needs to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to clearly outlining the procedures for elections so that when candidates face the student body, their minds are oriented toward campus issues and not on GUSA’s problematic structure.

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