Armed with a website and a petition, Abolish SG has taken on the Jeffersonian “obligation” to cleanse Student Government of its alleged impurities or dismantle it entirely.
Samantha Smith, Middle Eastern studies junior and the movement’s leader, calls for the nullification of last month’s election results or the annihilation of SG as a whole. The group’s website contains embarrassing and unprofessional emails from several members of the Election Supervisory Board (ESB) and a graphic depicting former ESB chairman Eric Nimmer’s various involvements in SG. It also shows incriminating screenshots of a Facebook message sent by newly elected SG President Thor Lund well before the official campaigning period began. In it, he asks some 21 friends for help with his and running mate Wills Brown’s campaign but warns them that this recruitment is against election code regulations.
Abolish SG threatens that if it amasses 1,000 signatures or if “the assembly fails to impeach and appoint at the next meeting,” it will release a roster of the Eyes of Texas, a secret society at the University, and “reveal” two administrators for unspecified offenses. “Vigilante democracy” may be a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s just what Smith and her unnamed associates appear to be attempting.
Of course, the group’s insistence on transparent, representative democracy strikes a deeply American chord within us all, and its motto, “democracy isn’t guaranteed, it’s earned and protected,” is — comma splice notwithstanding — a truism for the ages. The website shows evidence of some solid investigative journalism, particularly with regard to the record of mutual support between Judicial Court Chief Justice Alden Harris and SG law school representative Austin Carlson, who filed the complaints that got the Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara executive alliance disqualified for the second time. Additionally, Abolish SG’s call to reallocate all SG funds to scholarships is particularly tempting in these rough economic times.
However, Abolish SG has critical weaknesses much less apparent than its misspellings and tabloid-style personal attacks against student leaders. Most importantly, the petition fails to mention legitimate concerns about conflicts of interest and underhanded dealings; instead, it cites the disqualification of “all underrepresented candidates” from last month’s executive alliance election as the driving force behind the initiative. This not only distracts attention from the real issues but also levels unsubstantiated charges of racism and sexism against the ESB, whose vice-chair Truc Nguyen is both a woman and a minority. As Nguyen and other ESB members point out in a video on The Daily Texan, Abolish SG goes too far in suggesting that the board’s decisions were influenced by the demographic characteristics of candidates. Watchdog groups have every right to criticize and petition as long as the criticisms remain civil and justifiable.
Second, Abolish SG does not cite its sources for the Facebook screenshots or list of Eyes members. Smith and Co. could be treading on thin legal ice if they fail to show that they obtained their information legitimately and from willing sources. Additionally, Lund and Brown are the only executive alliance to receive an online expose. If Abolish SG truly favors a second election in which all disqualified candidates would be reinstated, it should critically investigate them all.
To be sure, the overarching demand for fair representation that drives Abolish SG is not without potential. Handled in a more professional manner, an investigation of SG and its election procedures could raise important questions about the role of government in a university setting and the responsibilities of those who govern. Clearly, the ESB and SG’s Judicial Court and legislative branch are unduly entangled through common members, personal connections and questionable interests.
However, Abolish SG has even less credibility than SG itself. An audit of SG practices and a reform of its electoral system should come not from a rogue Tumblr account but from an independent committee appointed by the Office of the Dean of Students. Impassioned students are often the drivers of important reforms, but they need the backing of the University and a standard of professional accountability in order to achieve anything more substantial than short-lived publicity.
Oliver is an English and sociology freshman.