EVERY FEW YEARS, students here wake up to the fact of their own powerlessness.
In 1978, for example, after a year of intense activism on campus, the Student Assembly was formed. Though students realized it had no formal power, they reasoned a representative body for all undergraduates might wield some influence. But the victories of the assembly have been few and far between--it is to be credited with helping win free toilet paper for the River Houses, and last year it staged a rock concert and a poorly attended spring picnic. Of late the assembly has grown even more timid; last week it refused to endorse the candlelight march against aid to El Salvador--as positive a student effort as this University has seen in three years--for fear of taking what one member called a "political stand."
It is with these failings of the Student Assembly in mind that we view the Dowling report on student governance released earlier this month. And it is this example that makes us skeptical that a student government reconstituted along the lines suggested by the committee will ever succeed. The most striking similarity between the assembly and the Dowling proposal is that again students are placed in merely an advisory role--all their efforts can be ignored or vetoed by the Faculty and the administration.
If students will remain powerless in the new system--and if, as is likely, it will defuse student energy and give the administration symbolic justification for its most objectionable acts--there seems little reason to support the "reforms." The only really positive feature of the plan is its bottom line: $60,000. Perhaps the reconstituted Student Assembly will be able to do more than stage rock concerts with that money. Perhaps it will save a little for its own purposes and distribute the rest to campus organizations that will use the funds to confront the administration and demand real change.
We cannot wholeheartedly support the Dowling committee reforms because we believe they hold out a false promise. In this University, one side, the administration and the Faculty, holds all the power. The other, the students, have none. And in a system like that, the powerful will not relinquish their authority voluntarily. It must be taken from them. Student power demands a formal role in all decisions. Perhaps cooperation is possible on issues like toilet paper, but on the central problems--University investments, for example--these changes proposed by the committee will be meaningless. We say take the money and do as much good as possible with it. But don't think things are going to change.
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