At the end of the fall semester, Columbia College Student Council released a report detailing all of the initiatives, projects, and events it had accomplished or contributed to over the course of the semester. This report was not required of CCSC, so we appreciate that the council members took it upon themselves to create a report with the intent of furthering transparency. We applaud the hard work, commitment, and creativity of all members who worked on these initiatives and created the report.
But despite its glossy format and infographics, the report lacks any critical analysis to balance its praise. It is written in platitudes and is largely self-congratulatory. There is minimal acknowledgment of the myriad of campus groups that collaborated with (and at times initiated) the projects CCSC takes credit for, such as Basketball Mania and Passport to Columbia. The report was issued in the name of transparency, but, in its execution, it did little to alter the opaque nature of the student council. An honest self-assessment, on the other hand, would allow campus organizations to better understand what CCSC needs from them and from the administration. Not airing problems or difficulties merely hinders cooperation.
The current executive board of CCSC was elected without opposition, and it has governed as if it hasn’t faced any criticism. When the class of 2014’s council publicly questioned the decision to select a new University senator for Columbia College internally rather than via a direct election, the executive board could have either defended the original decision or apologized and announced that a direct election would be held. Instead, it issued a press release defending its initial decision as correct and characterizing its wisdom as superior, while quietly announcing that there would be a direct election after all.
We recognize that publicly admitting a roadblock, challenge, or failure can be intimidating, but our calling for an honest self-assessment is not a demand for an investigation into CCSC’s behavior. We’re not searching for a scandal. Rather, the only way Columbia College students can buy into working with and supporting CCSC is if they are given as full an account as possible of the true state of affairs.
A full account from CCSC should go further, quantitatively. For example, we would like to see more data on CCSC sponsored events—student attendance, number of groups cosponsoring, and total hours spent planning. All of this information would help everyone understand what could be improved, and it could offer a fuller picture of what CCSC does—the process being as important to understand as the results. Any full account would also include a sincere qualitative reflection in which the council can admit, “This didn’t go too well,” or “We can do this better.” These honest remarks could provide a jumping-off point for the introduction of initiatives planned for this semester.
Student government at all universities relies on a precept of respect between representatives and their constituents—but these terms make us forget that we are peers. Here, honesty will win you support; obfuscation can only create skepticism.
No member of the student council needs the promotional trappings of a professional politician, and focus on self-promotion can only damage the effectiveness of student government at Columbia. When CCSC shows a commitment to doing the right thing—acknowledging weaknesses and reflecting on ways to improve while celebrating successes—students will be better motivated to engage in a more meaningful way with their student government.
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