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ON THE FRONT LINES: RUSA is not fulfilling its own outlined mission statement

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The Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) held its elections last Wednesday.

The Assembly is essentially the student government of Rutgers. Its mission statement states, “Founded in 2005, the Assembly is the primary representative body that is tasked with advocating for student needs and creating tangible change on campus. Through legislation, town halls, student organization allocations and advocacy efforts, we are able to impact the student experience. The Assembly is more than just a student government. We are standing proof that student voices are more powerful together,” according to its website.

As it stands, it is a monolith devoid of dissent and free-thought, and it opts to play the role of a gargantuan conglomerate of similar-minded students with mirroring opinions. Its voting records — at least those accessible to the public — are nearly universally unanimous, and if not unanimous, they rarely show any resemblance of contention.

Throughout the preceding couple of years, the Daily Targum has covered the Assembly’s meetings extensively, reporting on the ongoings of the student government.

This is not an attempt to promote the Targum. Instead, it is merely pointing out that no other source provides information regarding the Assembly's voting. Throughout the soon-to-be-mentioned voting records that the Targum has reported on, a clear pattern will emerge that shows how unanimous the Assembly is.

Let us rewind to the spring of 2018, when the Assembly voted for the Fall 2018 semester budget. (Our student government has no small sum to toy around with either, according to the Targum). For the 2018-19 school year, it had more than $1 million to work with. It approved the budget by a vote of 23-2. Clearly, it was not a very contentious decision.

During that same session, the Assembly voted for its own personal budget — a pile-of-cash totaling $154,000 — in a similar manner of total agreement, passing it by a vote of 26-1.

The Targum reported on Sept. 7, 2018 about the Assembly’s vice presidential election. The previous vice president had evicted her chair over the summer prior, triggering the need for an on-the-fly election at the beginning of that year’s fall semester. Three candidates vied for the seat, with Jessica Tuazon, a Rutgers alumna, emerging victorious. The Assembly voted with 29 in favor and none opposed.

In the spring of 2019, the Assembly voted to allocate funds from the Meal Swipe for Charity Program initiative to New Brunswick organization Youth Empowerment Club in another swimmingly easy decision, hammering down its verdict with a 32-12-2 vote (there were three organizations contending for the coveted funds), according to the Targum.

This past fall, the Assembly passed $1,000 in funding to the Eagleton Institute of Politics, again with unanimous consent from our student government, according to the Targum.

Unanimous votes, on their own, do not indicate a lack of discourse. I personally covered the Assembly as a member of the Targum’s news desk in the Spring 2019 semester. But, when I covered them, the debates were not substantial in any measure: Representatives were frightened to go against the Assembly’s predominant views and any dissertations were generally superficial qualms with wording or decorum (this is anecdotal, of course, so take it with a grain of salt).

The Assembly has been given authority over a large amount of our tuition money — $1,449,109 for 2018-19, the most recent year for which such data is available — and it always, without fail, votes seemingly without any legitimate debate over the issues.

Or, it could be that Rutgers realizes how foolish it would be to give a hoard of self-important 18 to 22-year-olds legitimate power, so it relegates the easy-to-decide, uncontroversial, vanilla issues to the Assembly as a way for it to feel as if it has a say without truly giving it one.

In that case, the Assembly is extraneous and unnecessary, serving as nothing more than a bone thrown at government-minded students by the University in order to make it feel as if they are spending their time doing something productive, which is more an indictment of the University than of its Assembly.

If we go back to the Assembly’s mission statement, which includes a stipulation that it will enact “tangible change” and “(advocate) for student needs,” we can see that it is not upholding its duty. 

Mainly, the issue resides in the fact that the Assembly has been given this large budget and proceeds to pass funding with very little debate, a sign that the students are either apathetic about their responsibilities as representatives or that the decisions are obvious ones, which would, as mentioned already, make them unnecessary.

The Assembly is given a sizable stipend of money with nothing truly meaningful to spend it on. All the decisions it reaches are ones that Rutgers would on its own right anyway. So what is the point of administrators pretending they are empowering students? This is a problem with Rutgers giving student government faux power, and the Assembly is being complicit with said power and not fighting for its right to uphold its very own mission statement.

Students should not only fight against organizations that solicit us for votes or money, but also against those who take it in dead silence. In this case, that fight takes the form of demanding that the Assembly be given contentious issues to work with and vote on. If it is going to take our money, it ought to be given the power to do what we expect of it: giving students a voice.

The Assembly itself must fight desperately for its right to vote on tough, truly controversial decisions, and we need to join them in that battle. And with a new electorate taking office soon, there is hope that such a change will be achieved — but only if the Assembly is willing to fight for it.

Jake McGowan is the Opinions editor for The Daily Targum.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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