Augustana Student Association should act on transparency promise

 

Another election, another year of “transparency” being promised.

Excuse the cynicism, but nearly every year transparency has been touted within the Augustana Student Association, yet little has actually changed.

Despite “efforts” to make students more informed of the going-ons in meetings, hardcopy meeting notes remain nestled away in the far corners of Viking Central, a website trafficked about as frequently as MySpace.

Because of this, it is inevitable that some students are shocked when ASA approved changes to the housing policy in Tuve Hall and apartment buildings. These new policies—which few students were aware of and even fewer given a chance to discuss—went unreported as ASA senators remained content to leave such policies confined to meeting notes.

Rather than changing the method by which students receive updates on meetings or offering students advanced knowledge of policies proposed to the body, the current reform is to merely change the location of said meetings.

As though the only impediment to perfecting communication was a lack of available seating.

Not, for example, that the meeting schedule makes it nearly impossible for Mirror staff to attend and ensure prompt coverage of upcoming issues. Or that meetings notes are released a week after meetings were held, further impeding the ability to report on decisions or controversies that occurred.

Student groups can go weeks without news from ASA on funding requests or relevent policy proposals that were discussed and voted on. Changes could be made to ensure these are done promptly. These would, of course, require a more concerted effort than past administrations were willing to devote.

Nor are the promises of transparency being upheld by campaigns. Current ASA policies do not require campaigns to disclose any expenditures and, aside from Abbie Sell and Max Boyum, the executive tickets have been content to leave students uninformed on how much was spent during this year’s election.

It should be a cause of concern for students that while candidates continually run on platforms of transparency, such vital parts of the election are opaque.

Aside from concerns about low-income students being barred from running competitive campaigns, there is nothing within the election code that would bar organizations—from Augustana or elsewhere—from financing a campaign.

This year at the University of Maryland, a slate of candidates withdrew from elections following investigations which revealed they had accepted campaign contributions from Turning Points USA, a conservative action group, and failed to disclose these contributions.

At Augustana, such actions would be acceptable but there is no way for students or ASA to discover if contributions from outside groups existed at all.

For such a glaring oversight within the election code, there has—as of yet—been no discussion of changing the policy. Nor have there been explanations for why campaign finances are not regulated.

Students can determine for themselves if any campaign tactics used in the last campaign were unethical. But if campaigns expand into high-end endeavors with such little oversight, it is unlikely that perfect ethics will be maintained.

If campaigns truly are concerned with transparency, then full transparency from themselves is demanded. This means relaying to the electorate on how much is being spent, even if the election code does not require it, and working to ensure that future campaigns do the same.

The election commission should make thorough reforms to avoid improprieties that have occurred on other campuses and any illusion of impropriety within the current election.

Other campuses dealing with these concerns have instituted strict caps on funding or given block funds to all candidates to replace private contributions.

Augustana Student Association elections have prominently featured transparency for a great deal of time.

It is time that this transparency extends beyond mere window dressing and becomes actual structural reforms to the opacity of what should be a central institution.

Matthew Schilling is a senior history and economics and government major from Mitchell, S.D.