Letter to the Editor

Jeffrey Alan Wainwright, Student Government Association parliamentarian

Dearest student body,

Your Student Government Association has failed you. The body responsible for ensuring democracy on this campus has voted against the very idea and robbed you of the most basic democratic procedure: the vote. As it stands right now, the only people who can be elected to be your student body president and vice president are students who have been elected to the association previously for at least a year. This limits the population who can represent you to approximately 40 people.

There are perfectly qualified students who could serve admirably as president, yet are not allowed. There are club presidents, resident assistants and resident directors, scholars, volunteers and a variety of other student leaders as equally qualified as any member of the Student Government Association. The qualification assumes that institutional knowledge is more important than intimate knowledge of the student body. Seeing this as an insult to basic student rights, I motioned to change the rule to open the position to more students and build a stronger, more vibrant and democratic student government. This would seem like a no-brainer to approve, would it not? Well, one would be wrong.

The motion failed by a vote of two in favor and 34 opposed. If the same qualifications for student government were applied to U.S. presidents, we would not have had Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Regan, Dwight Eisenhower or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Even looking at the current presidential contest under these rules, half of the candidates who are currently running would not have been able to, including current Republican front-runner Donald J. Trump. All these men have something else in common: They irreversibly changed the course of history because they brought an outside perspective that is necessary for the growth of any organization.  You should have an opportunity to vote for whomever you believe is the best representative of your interests.

The argument is that you need institutional knowledge of the rules of order and precedents to be a good president. This argument is silly. The rules of order can be learned in a night, and precedents are meant to, and sometimes must, be broken. The role of the president is to lead and make changes, not be stuck in a dogmatic circle of precedent and status quo. Such a circle leads to stagnation and no new ways of doing things moving forward.

Additionally, this is a qualification present at no other institution, including institutions as esteemed as Notre Dame, Harvard and Pitt-Oakland. We are behind the curve and should catch up. Once again, this is an insult to student leaders across campus.  If a presidency open to the student body is good enough for the most prestigious universities in the world, it should be good enough for Pitt-Johnstown.

That brings us to what you can do as a student. Demand accountably: If you see a student government member, ask them to justify their vote to you. Stop in the student government office by the Brioche Doree and ask them why they are taking away your rights as a student to vote for the most qualified candidate, not the one who has served for the appropriate amount of time. I need you to continue to pressure those of the 34 senators who oppose the democratic process, so they change their minds. You have been robbed, but it is in your power to take back your right as a student. Please, help make a legitimate change, and make the leadership at this campus stronger.