Demand for Disclosure
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 01:03
GUSA senators are tuned in to the student experience in part through their participation in organizations on campus, an exemplar of representative government. But while giving voice to different groups is democratic, voting with those self-interests in mind can be a perilous process.
There is no serious problem with corruptive bias in the Georgetown University Student Association, but GUSA still has an interest in developing a greater culture of disclosure and transparency.
It would be unreasonable to demand that every GUSA senator make student government his only extracurricular commitment. More importantly, it would hurt GUSA’s credibility. It is important for GUSA members to be involved with and knowledgeable of other groups on campus in order to foster awareness, responsiveness and accountability.
However, last week’s news involving a GUSA candidate’s involvement in a secret society indicated that many students care about their representatives’ organizational affiliations. Simply requiring GUSA senators to disclose all of their campus group affiliations on the GUSA website would be useful to ensuring transparency in voting without being intrusive or cumbersome.
Another progressive step for transparency would involve establishing a standard for recusal. If a GUSA senator is heavily involved with a group affected by a particular bill under discussion or stands to gain significantly by the bill’s outcome, he or she should abstain from voting. GUSA already moderates senator bias by maintaining a separate committee to manage the GUSA Fund, yet many other GUSA bills relate to student groups. Voting practices — the difference between abstaining and voting "present," for example — remain without clarification. A standardized procedure would feature an expectation that students not participate in votes from which they could uniquely stand to benefit.
Last week’s campus debate on affiliations was an encouraging sign that students care about the ethical practices and influences in GUSA. Now, wary of that relevance, it is essential that GUSA address potential conflicts of interest by establishing norms of disclosure.