March 16, 2004

The real powers of student government

The difference between running for office in law school and med school seems to be that in law school, there are a lot of candidates who are willing to give longish, prepared speeches about why their ideas are innovative, how they're responsive to student interests, and how they won't bog the Student Senate down with so much policy that there isn't room left for planning parties.

In med school, there were a few committed candidates for elected office, but many of them wouldn't admit to wanting to give a speech, even assuming that any of their classmates were willing to listen to one. Which they weren't. The students knew the candidates already, or believed that they did, and didn't want to spend too much time on an election. Unsurprising, I guess, when you consider that they chose to go medical school. If they were interested in campaigning, they'd have gone to law school instead.

Nevertheless, I suspect that law school and medical school student governments are very similar kinds of beasts.

No, I'm not running for office. In med school I was drawn into student government by my dissatisfaction with certain policies of the Administration; in law school I've been fairly satisfied with things. At least, I have been so far.

One thing that serving in med school student government showed me is that while students don't have much statutory power, they have a lot of persuasive power. Our student government was deeply involved in issues of curricular reform, a subject over which we had zero authority. Nevertheless, we had a great deal of persuasive ability. Our real handicap was a short institutional memory; students were limited to a maximum of four years of participation, and newcomers often weren't informed about what issues had preceeded them. As a result, the students were constantly re-inventing the wheel, while certain of the Deans could play the same tired old hand over and over again.

Which is why I was troubled today, listening to candidate speeches, whenever anyone claimed that they "knew" where the dividing line was between what students could do, and what they couldn't. Any candidate who seemed to assume that some topics were simply not a matter for the student senate to address was crossed off my list.

I want to vote for someone who recognizes the persuasive power that a student government can wield. I won't vote for a mere functionary, or for a brownnosing flunkie of the Administration. Even at the level of student government, there is a need for (and room for) real leaders.

Posted by Carey at March 16, 2004 06:25 PM