Few sensible people could say the Associated Students of Madison is a perfect student government. In fact many students, including some ASM members, feel that the organization is in dire need of reform. But when critics deride ASM for setting the application deadline for vacant seats on the Student Services Finance Committee too early, they fail to address the larger issue'a needed adjustment of the nominations process.
The merits of the Sept. 3 application deadline are debatable. ASM claims it needs to speed up the appointments process so all representatives can be present for student groups' eligibility and funding hearings. Others contend that the day-before-school-started deadline shuts out the average student, making SSFC an elite and exclusionary club. Was the number of applications forgone worth the benefit of having newly appointed representatives able to attend eligibility hearings? Probably not.
But to assert that this deadline only now makes SSFC (or, by extension, student government) 'by invitation only' is absurd. Appointees have always been chosen largely on the basis of their political affiliation rather than their qualifications. Sometimes students don't even know what committee they've been chosen for until after they have already been appointed. Needless to say, the prospects for an aspiring student without the right connections are grim, if they exist at all.
The nominations process as a whole is where ASM must focus its attention. While removing the politics from the political process is a contradiction in terms, it is incumbent upon ASM to equalize the role merit plays in appointments. This means strengthening the Nominations Board's role in the appointment process.
ASM currently holds applicants to two different standards based on when they apply. If students apply for the initial round of appointments taking place in the spring, they never deal with the Nominations Board. Rather, a newly elected Student Council appoints students to each of the ASM committees, including SSFC and Finance, during the long, chaotic first meeting at the end of the spring semester. Before the meeting, and behind closed doors, representatives create political alliances and determine which of their cronies they will try to appoint to what committees. Based on political wrangling, and with scarce determination of merit, those students are members of committees by the end of the meeting.
The Nominations Board, however, jumps into action if any of the originally appointed students leave their seats vacant. In this case, the Board takes the time to interview all of the applicants individually before forwarding its recommendations to Student Council.
Why isn't the Nominations Board involved in the first round of appointments? At some point in ASM's history, its leadership decided it was more important to fill the positions before the summer recess. That questionable decision prevents any checks on appointees, which can and has resulted in the appointment of unqualified or uncommitted students. At the very least, a more active Nominations Board would create the appearance of a more legitimate process and at best it will allow for the most qualified applicants to at least have a chance at an appointment.
ASM should act quickly to ensure that all nominees undergo a uniform appointment process, free from cronyism and influence peddling. The legitimacy of ASM and our quality representation hang in the balance.