ASM Student Government members face a fundamental question each year: What is the role and purpose of a student government? In Wisconsin, we thankfully have some mandated roles. First, found in State Statute 36.09(5), students “shall be active participants in the immediate governance of and policy development for such institutions.” This gives us the right to help determine University policy, a right which we practice at Madison by appointing students to faculty committees. Also according to 36.09(5) we “have the primary responsibility for the formulation and review of policies concerning student life, services, and interests”, and “ have the responsibility for the disposition of those student fees which constitute substantial support for campus student activities”. So, we get to participate in policy discussions, and, subject to final approval by the Board of Regents, get to give out student fees (segregated fees). Awesome! But wait, is that enough? What keeps us effective? What keeps us relevant?
Found in the last line of 36.09(5) is the right for students to organize as we see fit, which we have done under the ASM Constitution for the last 17 years. In addition to the two state-given rights mentioned above, the ASM Constitution gives us these points to serve as our purpose for existing:
Article III..(c) to organize events for students;
(d) to receive complaints from students, investigate the problems of students, and participate in academic decisions concerning students;
(e) to take action on behalf of the student body in general, and to specifically work for:
i. The expansion of student power in all aspects of student governance;
ii. The recognition of access to education as a basic human right;
iii. The enforcement of civil rights guarantees in all aspects of university life and policy;
iv. The guarantee of the ability of students, staff, and faculty to function without undue financial stress;
v. The protection of public education;
vi. The defense of the right of students and campus workers to organize in their own interests;
vii. The protection of full student autonomy over student life, services, and interests.
(f) to provide an official voice through which the opinions of the student body may be expressed;
(g) to develop ASM policies in a fair and open manner; and
(h) to inform all students of ASM activities and encourage participation in them.
These points allow ASM to act as the voice of students, and charge us with taking action on multiple issues. In the previous couple of years, the overall purpose of the organization has been summed up as Advocacy, Services, and Membership, or the “three pillars” prominently displayed on the newest ASM logo created under the tenure of Chair Brittany Wiegand. We advocate on the points listed in Article III, section (e), we provide services through allocation of segregated fees and campus events, and we are active members in the governance of our university.
In order to remain relevant to the student body, and to address issues regarding their needs, ASM has set up certain programs through the use of segregated fees. These most notably include subsidized bus passes, the SAFE programs, semesterly textbook swaps, and most recently, a student housing fair.
I write this to lay out clearly what our role is, and what the student body has organized itself to do. In the course of my posts over this long weekend, I’m going to try to expand on ideas surrounding the purpose of ASM, and student governments in general. Hopefully we can have a solid discussion on any need to expand or limit our purpose, or guarantee that we are doing exactly what we as student leaders are charged to do.