Last Friday in this space, two student contributors offered strangely complementary critiques of GUSA. One article attacked an internal proposal made by GUSA Chief Adviser Eric Rivers (COL ’02) (“`Finance Board’ Proposal Falls Far Short of Real Change,” Jan. 19), while the other article, written by Jaremy McMullin (COL ’99), lauded the recent efforts to resurrect the Yard, an outdated form of student government that died in the late 1960s (“A Familiar Reform Refrain: Bring Back the Yard,” Jan. 19). Both articles advocated the abolition of GUSA.

GUSA needs reform, but not the sort that Rivers or the Yardies propose. Rivers believes that change should come from the inside and must include, as a first step, a drastic reorganization and consolidation of the current student activities funding system.

Supporters of the Yard, on the other hand, argue that the best way to reform GUSA is to summarily kill it and replace it with their own handcrafted student government. Both proposals are products of extensive research, thought and deliberation, each representing well-intentioned efforts to improve the efficacy of Georgetown student government. But, as usual, there’s a lot of talking and not a lot of listening going on.

All of these reformers should take a minute, put down their pens and petitions, and think about what they are trying to accomplish. At first glance, it is apparent that both parties believe that structural deficiencies, not poor leaders, have conspired to make GUSA a failure. Both parties must also agree that GUSA is missing something, because both Rivers and the Yardies advocate creating additional permanent committees, legislative bodies and greatly expanding student government’s area of concern and influence. Both are ahead of themselves.

The problem with Georgetown student government is not its structure; it is the foundation upon which that structure stands. A large, bureaucratic student government does not necessarily lead to a strong student government. The Yard and Rivers would have us believe it would. Rather, the solution to this mess is not structural reform but attitude reform. GUSA will become more effective – indeed it has been most effective – when its members stop meeting and start doing.

Student government should not concern itself with enacting legislation, nor with being an actual government at all. GUSA’s real work does not occur in an assembly meeting, but rather in smaller, single-issue ad hoc committees with clearly defined objectives. The Yardies fail to make this connection, and believe that talking about issues is the same thing as acting on them. They propose creating three separate legislative bodies. Their six committees deal exclusively with financial issues or internal rules and regulations, not issues of student concern such as diversity, academics or housing. The Yard is government for government’s sake.

GUSA has been doing things for students. Over the past four years, our student government has been most effective when outside circumstances have forced its leaders to confront a specific challenge, dilemma or student-related policy issue.

In the fall of 1997, GUSA and Campaign Georgetown came together to defeat the proposed Zoning Overlay, a district directive that would have unfairly prohibited more than three students from sharing a house in Georgetown or Burleith. In that instance, GUSA and Campaign Georgetown won their fight because they worked in tandem, marshalling manpower and student resources while channeling their collective organizational energy into a single, timely project.

In 1999, GUSA representatives, working with club sports athletes, fought for and obtained increased funding and university recognition for club sports. In Sept. 2000, GUSA’s Board of Directors Committee secured two spots on Board committees.

During this past semester, GUSA Representatives, in conjunction with representatives from the university’s funding boards, prepared and presented an innovative student activities funding proposal to key administrators. If approved, that proposal could help create an endowment for student programs.

In these and other cases, single-issue committees have been the most successful way to initiate, develop and complete student-related policy projects because such committees enable student leaders to better focus their efforts, resources and time on specific issues. These representatives can attack the problem like they would any other assignment for class and as a result, they can more efficiently come up with a solution. That is the direction GUSA should take. So why are we so caught up in proposals creating new committees and governments?

Since 1997, GUSA and other student organizations have done a lot. But those successes have been forgotten, discounted and dismissed. Instead, the Yardies and Rivers have grasped onto the public face of the Student Association – its navel-gazing, finger-pointing and political posturing. GUSA reacts when it needs to, through small ad hoc committees, not huge bureaucracies. If you think assembly meetings are bad now, imagine the horror when the deliberative body grows.

Amid all of this commotion about governing structures, funding boards and constitutions, both the Yardies and their opponents seem to have lost touch with what matters most – making a difference in the everyday lives of Georgetown students. Still, without adequate opportunity for discussion, this reform debate is destined to spiral out of control. Rivers and the Yardies, though they share a passion for structural reform, come down on decidedly different sides of this debate. There is middle ground – stop talking and start doing. Enough debate already, use some common sense and get to work.

Ryan Erlich is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and a member of The Hoya’s editorial board.

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