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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Governing Without Consent

<u say you got a real solution. Well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan. You ask me for a contribution. Well, you know, we're doing what we can.”
-The Beatles (Revolution)

Governing, as we are told, is about assuring the consent of the governed. That phrase – consent of the governed – harks back to John Locke. Its ubiquitous presence in everything from political speeches to documents signed by lower echelon, city government agencies renders the phrase insincere. Recently, the Carleton Student Association Senate joined the fray of attempting to democratize its processes, amending, without consent of the masses at Carleton, its governing bi-laws. The most drastic of the changes involved its policy for elections to the body. The CSA held that, in order to foster egalitarianism the body, to solve the problem of accountability here at Carleton, it planned to allow only a limited number of representatives who students would choose from each academic year.

While I do not doubt its ascendant-to-virtue intentions, and while I think that the current form of the CSA inadequately represents the interests of students, I think what the body did was wrong.

John Locke’s phrase, regarding the governed masses, actually fits in perfectly here. The phrase demands that government has the justified legitimacy and moral right to use its sovereign power to fundamentally alter the character of a state only when consent is derived from the people, society, over whom power compels. Locke’s theory contrasts the divine right of kings, and aristocrats, who used whimsical discretion to curb the liberty of the people.

Connecting this back to the CSA election guidelines, the elites within our system of government decided to change, without notice, the documents governing our institution. Already, we, the students of Carleton, are allowed only a handful of individuals who possess the right, apparently, to politically lobby on our behalf to the administration. But, in this revolution, students now must pick not from the best candidates overall, but from whichever group of class-specific individuals decide to run for student government. In fact, this is not government. This is a school popularity contest, in which we trade experience in serious matters for the frivolities of pretending to care about how to enact the people’s will into fruition.

As a freshman last year, my CSA Senators included some of the brightest, most eloquent individuals, who derived their knowledge of the institution to implement positive change through their many years of experience on college governing bodies. I would not trade the knowledge and experience that my mentors, Messrs. Ben Barclay, Colin Bottles, Evan Rowe, and Brandon Walker, on a governing body for some freshman or sophomore who just wants a line on a resume. I expect the student body would trust, more, the judgment of a cabal of upperclassmen to cogently, reasonably, represent our views to the administration than it would a bunch of neophytes who still struggle in their attempts to fit into the institution. How can CSA change our representation without our own consent? At the very least, students should have the right to make that determination on their own.

I did not give CSA the right to stir a revolution in the way I elect my representative. Our pitiful excuse for democracy on campus should not be a select few elites crafting policy a cartel, with little or no regard to the masses. Why wasn’t this put to a student vote or referendum? President McKay Duer informed me that the agenda item was posted in an all-campus email, that meeting are open to all students, that the actual changes reflect merely an institutionalization of previous, unwritten, policy. But, an addendum in a four-page email, one that inundates our mailboxes, qualifies not as some overwhelming communication strategy, an attempt to get students involved. The student government basically took the stance that it knew what was best for our body politic, and, if I had a problem, I should have shown up to protest. But major constitutional changes should not manifest themselves in procedural votes, in agenda items debated by a few, good men and women. And, instead of admission of missteps, I find defiance.

The road to hell, to tyranny, is paved with good intentions like these. CSA’s actions, its attempts to reform a system with no explanation, in fact, shock my conscience. And I work for Chicago politicians! CSA needs to stop. CSA needs to deliberate. CSA needs to sincerely ask for our consent. It needs to appreciate the ramifications of its decision. It needs to realize that a poll of students would conclude that nobody actually cares about the changes. If it really cared about what we thought, or how we thought, or what impact its policies would have, I would suggest they hold another town hall meeting. There, it could make its case and craft the policy not with just the consent, but with the input from the governed. CSA could be right in this revolution. But it is not doing all that it can.

-Samir S. Bhala is a second-year student

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