Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Dickie Humps Uprising: Another Year, Another Northwestern Student Body Election

It's that time of year again, when a few students concerned with Northwestern's student council, Associated Student Government or ASG come out and campaign for the votes of the rest of their fellow students who usually have little idea of what ASG has done. I think ASG gets a bad rap: it's done more than people think, though it is also a paridigmatic example of how little the NU administration, under the leadership of University President Henry Bienen, cares to improve Northwestern in ways that would benefit undergraduate students, like examining the consequences on learning that results from the quarter system, promoting teaching as much or more than research, and improving the advising system, among other things. Within this inertia, I think ASG, especially over the last year, has made some useful changes, like the Target P/N, summer financial aid, and increasing campus security.

The exciting thing about the ASG elections though, even to someone like me who likes to fancy themselves interested in issues, is by far the hilarious personalities in the running. This year's elections proved especially satisfying as fodder because of Howard W. Buffett's resignation as a candidate for Executive Vice President. Buffet went out swinging, accusing his opponent, Jay Schumacher of slandering Buffett, charging him falsely with election violations, and stealing his identity (just kidding about the last one). Buffett also railed against the ASG group that he served with, saying that their were interests that wanted to stifle his supposedly reform-minded campaign so that ASG corruption wouldn't be exposed. All of this in college student government!

In other humourous news, Northwestern's most beloved write-in candidate actually received more votes than two of the candidates for ASG president. Dickie Humps, a nickname given to an actual engineering student named Richard Humphrey whose "candidacy" was launched with a write-in campaign last year, received 195 votes this year. Other write-ins who resurfaced this year were El Testicular, NUMB Fuckin' Tenor, and Library Sleeping Lady (my personal favorite). Streetwise vendor near Le Peep and Paddy McResume were some welcome new additions to the write-in list. Since two candidates were running unopposed, I indulged in writing in Tookie Clothespin and Thor Svenson proving that even serious voters like me can have fun when it comes to student government elections.


Steph said...

This is not related to ASG, but I just wanted to publicly give my thoughts on the idea of blaming the President of the University for lack of response to student issues. First though, I suggest that people with complaints about academic issues (like the quarter system) appeal to the Provost, Larry Dumas. That's his job. If it's about Student Affairs, that's Bill Banis.

On to Bienen. I really think that most college students have misperceptions about what the president of a university does. Yeah, he does hold a title that would suggest that he should be serving the university's constituents...but what many students have little exposure to is that institutions of higher education are comprised of more than just students as its constituents. There are the faculty, the staff, trustees, the community at large. Also, the President is not analagous to the President of a country. Bienen ultimately answers to the Board of Trustees. Anyway, I just think it's unfair to always be pointing the finger at Bienen just b/c he's the President. I also want to further defend the big B and say that fundraising and maintaining relations with representatives of the community, the government, and private sector is really important to the vitality of a university. President Bienen has done a phenomenal job of helping Northwestern grow and gain the resources necessary to keep this consistently a top notch institution with reknowned professors (who come to NU by the lure of $$$ and stay here b/c of $$$, otherwise they'd go elsewhere that'll pay them $$$), state of the art technology, and grants to fund centers, research, and practices that benefit the community at large (e.g. the Center on Wrongful Convictions, much of the great work done at the Med School campus)

Now, if I didn't work in the President's Office for four years, I probably would be right w/ the crowd and bitching about admin...but I do feel that since I have had the opportunity to see the university from a perspective most students don't get to see, I would like to share this w/ other students.

In closing: at least Henry Bienen isn't Larry Summers.

Elaine said...

You say,
"but what many students have little exposure to is that institutions of higher education are comprised of more than just students as its constituents."

I disagree. Something one notices from the first few days they are on campus is how little it revolves around undergrads. It's hard not to perceive, with the amount of big lecture classes, TAs teaching rather than professors, and few academic changes that benefit undergrads, that undergrads are at the bottom of the university totem pole. Is this a good thing? Is it worth defending a president who, yes, has been a valuable fundraiser but who probably has done little to give me and others their $40,000/year worth? Let's not forget that universities began simply to educate students. Today undergraduates are greeted with skepticism by administration, some professors, and some graduate students. As I overheard one grad student say about her office hours, "It's too early in the quarter for people to come yet. They haven't gotten any grades." Not to sound corny, but the students are the future, and should be educated as such. Maybe universities have lost their focus. In some ways, the fundamental teaching style of the university--the lecture--has become outmoded, as studies on how people learn have shown.

As for Bienen, I have a friend who was invited to lunch with him in some sort of effort by him to see what's on students' minds, but when she asked him if anything could be done about looking into the quarter system, according to her he was unmoved and uninterested. You suggest academic issues should be directed to the Provost, but you acknowledge that the Board of Trustees really has the first say on, for instance, looking into the quarter system. Anyway,that's what I have to say.