I want to start this post with the disclaimer that I’m not a poli sci major, I’m a molecular biologist. Many of you will have far more knowledge around the theory part of this, so feel free to correct me if I start to lead people astray. My last post was about the purpose of ASM, both delegated by the state and chosen by the student body through our Constitution. I want to focus on the basis behind the second part today.
John Locke wrote of the ability of a community of “free and equal” citizens to form a government by the consent of the people. This means that the legitimacy of the government, as well as its right to exercise its delegated powers, only lasts as long as the people it governs allows it to. In any given year, the students at this university can choose to disband the student government, and either replace it, or choose to have no elected student leadership. At Wisconsin, we have seen exactly this, with the Wisconsin Student Association being disbanded by vote of the students in 1992, and ASM’s Constitution being ratified by students in 1994. We’ve even seen rival Student Governments attempt to usurp ASM as the official SGA (Student Government Association) on campus.
So how does ASM have the “consent of the governed?” What does that really mean? Does this require unanimous consent? Clearly, it cannot. The majority of this campus does not participate in ASM, and would probably hold negative views, especially due to the high seg fee rate, even if they know enough to realize ASM sets that rate. “Unanimous consent” would also require that individual students be allowed by themselves to “secede” from ASM, or stop paying seg fees, something they cannot do unless they leave UW altogether. Instead, I believe ASM’s “consent” is more along the line of “tacit consent,” which means consent exists as long as there is no current state of widespread “rebellion.” Since the majority of students are not even aware of what ASM is doing, the student government is not harming them in any considerable way, and therefore they are, tacitly, consenting to be affected by its decisions, as they are not actively opposing them.
As I have said before, the current ASM Constitution has been ratified by the student body, and multiple attempts to change the constitution or usurp ASM have failed. Students on this campus, for whatever reason, have voted as recently as 2009 to say that the current ASM Constitution, including all its rights and responsibilities pointed out in my last post, are better than alternative approaches. The majority of students like the idea of having bus passes available. They believe funding for student organizations should be a power held by the student government, and as demonstrated by the recent NatUP referendum, they believe the student government is at least legitimate enough to be used as a vehicle for expressing their views about the future of this campus.
In the Preamble of the ASM Constitution, the student government sets out to create a body that will, “selflessly pursue the ideals of all without denying the ideals of one, that will be responsive without being repressive or restrictive, and that will insure that we, the students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are fairly recognized and represented.” While this sounds like a terrific set of ideals, one has to wonder, though we are, at least by tacit consent, legitimate in the eyes of students, how on such a diverse campus can we truly, “pursue the ideals of all without denying the ideals of one?”