It is getting closer and closer to spring here at UT. With the impending season of rebirth and booming sales for the manufacturers of allergy medications come a few time-honored traditions. Some examples of these Big Orange customs include nail biting over our basketball team's survival in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, spring practice for the football team, the subsequent Orange and White Game and a rush to try to secure summer employment or internship opportunities. Despite all the prominence of the aforementioned events, I have never found anything that comes close to matching the entertaining, hypocritical and frivolous nature of the elections for the Student Government Association.
Now, scholastic democracy is something that most of us have had pounded into our heads since the day we stepped into the kindergarten classroom. In elementary school, you "vote" for candidates in mock presidential elections; in middle school, you might elect class officers and/or members of a homecoming court; in high school, you definitely are encouraged — if not required — to participate in homecoming and student class officer elections. All of this is supposed to instill a sense of citizenship and electoral participation in the minds of young Americans.
The same is theoretically true about SGA elections. Candidates collect names on petitions to gain entrance onto the ballot. After that? Well, they can attempt to run as independents, but they generally get sucked into running on the ballot for one of at least two ridiculously named, usually Greek-backed "parties," like "Fuse," "Inspire," "Move" or "Transform."
In the weeks leading up to the elections, the parties take to the Pedestrian Mall and try to entice prospective voters into choosing their party. They hand out drinks, foodstuffs and shirts, trying to more or less buy the vote of their fellow students. On more than one occasion, I have witnessed unaffiliated students walk between the various parties gathered in front of Hodges Library and quite loudly ask, "Who is going to give me the most free stuff?"
Sorry, but that is not how democracy is supposed to work. Elections at all levels, according to Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson, require the participation of informed voters who make their decisions based on a weighing of the various options and selections that are not based on greed.
What happens when the elections are over, you ask? The SGA becomes a mere afterthought for the rest of the current school year and for much of the next. Several reports and accounts that have been printed in this very publication have repeatedly said that the organization suffers from poor attendance and member participation. Why? I would imagine it is probably because the members realize that they have no power and have never and probably will never be able to do anything substantial.
Please, if you disagree with me, name three major things that the SGA has accomplished in recent years ... Don't worry, I'll wait.
The only things that leap into my mind are the designation of parking spaces for easy ATM access, a faculty evaluation system that most students do not take seriously and about which they could not care less, and the use of part of the tuition of every student to fund frivolous meetings and useless activities.
Its failures? They are much easier to recollect and include such examples as failing to pressure the university to stop raising tuition costs, failing to do anything to pressure the athletic department to prevent the imposition of payments for student tickets to home football games and failure to put pressure on the state government to extend the Hope Scholarship to students who study in the summer. It failed at all of this because it is a useless body that has no backing from the student population and is mostly made up of officers and senators who only ran so they could have something extra to put on their resumes.
If the SGA could only admit to that last point, disband and let its share of the Program and Services fees go toward funding worthy causes and programs on campus, we would all be better off.
If you simply must participate in the impending democratic sham, I suggest you write in the name — in every available category — of the only man to invigorate and inspire this campus over the last year ... Tyler Bray. UT's freshman quarterback sensation brought back a feeling of hope and optimism to UT football that has not been seen in almost a decade. Will he get anything done if elected? Who knows, but he could not do any worse.
—Derek Mullins is a senior in political science and history. He can be reached at email@example.com.