If the months-long GUSA election debacle taught the Georgetown community anything, it showed that many students still remain unsure of the efficiency of the Assembly, the main legislative body for the Student Association.

Reform measures have been launched both inside and outside the organization, and while most Assembly members now agree that something is wrong, a solution remains less clear.

A new slate of representatives was elected yesterday who will carry the burden of reform.

After a year in which GUSA has been plagued by an unprecedented executive election that seemed to have no end, accompanied by the polarization of much of the Assembly into opposing factions, student apathy appears to be at a high point.

Vera Scheidlinger (SFS ’07) described a view shared by many students.

“GUSA? I don’t think of it much at all,” she said. “I recognize the importance for student leadership, but I feel that it is rather ineffective, especially as it only fills an advisory role.”

Many students are either unsure what the GUSA Assembly does, skeptical of its motives or dismissive of those activities that the assembly does perform.

While Assembly members may represent vast interests, attendance at the weekly Assembly meetings was generally unpredictable during the last GUSA term.

Generally there was quorum by a small margin (nine of 16 Assembly members in attendance constitutes a quorum), and there were a notable number of scheduled meetings where the body failed to maintain quorum. Some members rarely attended and, among those who did attend, some were occupied with homework or other distractions during the meetings.

Regardless of these uninterested exceptions, a small majority of representatives was actively involved during the meetings, and among them, a select few were extremely active outside the Assembly meetings as well.

Calls for Reform

GUSA’s current trend was noted by the executive campaign of Chris Schmitter (SFS ’06) and Dave Hartzler (COL ’06), who ran on a ticket promising to more fully integrate the student body into GUSA and its activities. Both Schmitter and Hartzler were elected yesterday as Assembly representatives for the class of 2006.

“My primary reason for running developed as numerous friends of mine complained that they had little idea what most groups, such as GUSA, do on campus,” Schmitter said during his executive campaign.

Candidates Josh Green (SFS ’06) and Lauren Butts (SFS ’06) also addressed a similar topic, including among their platform a plank arguing to review the effectiveness of the Assembly and revamp it drastically if it was found to be ineffective.

Former GUSA President Brian Morgenstern (COL ’05) indicated that he did not see the problems as structural, but as temporary, accompanying this year’s dynamic.

“On this year’s assembly there is a lack of initiative. It is lacking those who adopt tangible goals and pursue them,” he said. “The fact is that not all members participate at the level to which their title lends.”

Representative Drew Rau (SFS ’06), who was reelected to a second Assembly term last night, agrees that something is wrong with the Assembly, though he believes it is not a personnel problem.

“The idea that all assembly members do not care about student concerns is wrong,” he said. “Most members do what they can, but they are limited in what they can accomplish by structural factors. First of all, GUSA as a whole has a fairly small amount of authority, which is essentially because that is the way the administration wants it.”

Retiring representative Octavio Gonzalez (COL ’06) admitted that he felt most Georgetown students do not understand how GUSA functions, but stopped short of saying that this constitutes a larger structural problem. He emphasized that the Assembly represents a wide variety of students.

“Most people only really hear about the Assembly during the election cycle and, even then, they hear distorted views as to what the Assembly can do from ambitious candidates,” he said. “As far as this year is concerned, the Assembly represents the wide spectrum of what Georgetown is. The members of the Assembly represent a wide variety of sectors of the community.”

But Outgoing Representative Annie O’Brien (NHS ’06) sees deeper problems.

“I think the biggest challenge is actually getting the Assembly to work together,” she said.

O’Brien said that representatives often get wrapped up in self-interested politics for personal gain.

“I was surprised to see how caught up people were in their own agendas instead of trying to work with the Assembly as a whole,” she added.

Plans for Action

At an Assembly meeting early in the year, Representative Pravin Rajan (SFS ’07) proposed an overhaul of GUSA Constitution, a move that promptly failed. Since then, he has increasingly pursued goals outside of the Assembly.

“I believe that GUSA is in need of a radical structural overhaul,” he said, explaining that he felt that under the current structuring, only the GUSA president could make significant accomplishments. The Assembly’s role is to discuss and pass resolutions, which are subsequently carried out by the executive branch.

“So, as an assembly member with the limited powers and means we are given, sometimes the best we can hope for is to enact what change we want to see outside the umbrella of GUSA.”

Retiring representative Vikram Agrawal (SFS ’07), who will serve as Chief of Staff in the administration of newly elected GUSA President Kelley Hampton (SFS ’05) and Vice-President Luis Torres (COL ’05), also sees room for reform. He would like to see more responsibility given to representatives who he believes should serve on committees.

Nevertheless, he admitted that even under current circumstances, the mere status of being an elected representative of the students is an invaluable means of achieving goals.

“It does help to have that title `elected official’ to meet with someone,” Agrawal said.

He added that many students lack awareness of what GUSA has done.

“Things are done – small things and big things – but aren’t noticed by the average student, thus people think GUSA does nothing,” he said. “They might not be huge issues, but they try to address smaller issues that can be done by individuals.”

The question of GUSA representatives serving on the various appointed GUSA committees such as the Funding Board and Volunteer and Public Service Board, among others, has also been raised by outgoing representative and incumbent vice president Torres. During recent meetings, the Assembly has moved toward increased oversight of the student activities funding system. Torres said he feels that the executive is exercising too much direct control over these committees and wishes to see more assembly involvement.

“The Assembly has made some efforts to deal with the massively flawed student activities funding system, but this is a problem that the president of the Student Association ought to have been handling,” Assembly Chair Jack Ternan (COL ’04) said.

Morgenstern responded concerning this proposed oversight. “Assembly members are actually required to sit on the advocacy committees. More often than not, they choose not to,” he said. “Many assembly members who complain that they don’t know something about the committees haven’t taken the time to find out.”

Ternan, who spearheaded the Yard amendment to replace GUSA with a different student government system, also is among those who believe that structural change is necessary to save GUSA.

“GUSA should not try to represent students as students should learn to represent themselves in order to be good citizens, and dependence on others to solve one’s problems is not in keeping with the Jesuit and Catholic nature of the university,” he said. “GUSA should be a forum for coordination of student leadership and a place where students can go to get help with their initiatives.”

Other Directions

With their GUSA executive aspirations terminated following the final decision of the Constitutional Council, president and vice-president candidates Adam Giblin (SFS ’06) and Eric Lashner (COL ’05) have begun to pursue other means for accomplishing their platform goals, even without official titles.

Meeting for the first time Sunday afternoon, they are starting a student advocacy group entitled Georgetown Students United for Progress (GSUP) that will aim to address student issues and find viable solutions. Giblin said that they are taking precautions to avoid “stepping on anyone’s toes,” and do not want to be seen as an alternative student government.

“Outside the GUSA sphere there are certain goals that are not getting done,” Giblin said. “We’re going to work on those.”

Lashner emphasized the benefits of an independent group.

“What makes it unique is that we won’t have to worry about GUSA structure and just work on getting stuff done for the students that are here,” he said.

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