With politics comes “drama,” as some might say, otherwise known as political bickering. The nature of politics in itself can involve some undesirable behavior including, but not limited to, backstabbing, gossip and lying.
Eastern’s political scene is no different. Throughout the years, student politicians within student government have filed complaints against one another, even leading to candidates being removed from ballots hours before polls close and appeal trials occurring well past midnight.
Recently, the Elections Committee has spent time combing through these issues and coming up with solutions to remedy them. Most of these revisions have been toward clarifying and specifying many parts of the elections bylaws.
But one new article, Article III, does the exact opposite of fixing a problem. It is setting up for a whole new host of issues.
The new Code of Conduct lists a code of behavior for candidates. It explains many things one would hope a candidate would already be doing – to be free of bias, to have professional conduct and be responsible for their errors.
But some of these “standards” bring to mind one simple question – when can a candidate truly speak out?
The Code of Conduct states “refrain from bringing the integrity of the Student Government Association as a whole into public disrepute.”
The answer is simple and cowardly. Because looking bad is uncomfortable. Because when those who elected you find out about errors, you may not only lose an upcoming election, but you may be impeached.
Because the public can, and will, hold you accountable for your actions.
As journalists, we at The Progress do not believe in supporting gossip or backbiting, but we do support holding our elected officials accountable for their actions. This includes the petty and ugly sides of their actions, as well.
What if a candidate truly feels SGA, as a whole, is a weak organization and there are certain individuals to blame? According to this code, they could possibly be removed from the ballot, or at a minimum, punished by the elections committee for trying to voice their opinions to the public.
With these new revisions, the person who sees a need for change could be prevented from ever leading the student body to make that change happen.
This code also states, “refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of other Student Government Association members.”
If you weren’t already aware, every single student attending Eastern is a member of SGA, the same way every citizen of the United States is a member of its government. We have the right to vote, and our representatives are there because we put them there.
This section reads like a warning to future candidates to watch their mouths, because one “personal charge” against any fellow student could end up with your removal from the ballot.
Don’t forget another item added in this code of conduct, “expose corruption where discovered.”
When this issue was being reported on, it was clarified that those who find corruption should report it to the elections committee. But this is in no way stated within the bylaws.
So, expose corruption? To who? If it is the public, are you bringing SGA into “public disrepute?” And what if a particular individual is corrupt, and you expose them in public?
Well, then add “personal charges” to the list of violations.
Overall, these changes come from good intentions – the desire to have a clean and fair election.
But the vagueness of the language, the fear of embarrassment so obviously laced throughout and the lack of criticism of this document by the student politicians is disturbing.
This document was passed almost unanimously through Student Senate, Residence Life Council and Student Activities Council.
No one raised issue with the fact that this Code of Conduct holds “all election candidates, their agents, any appointed or elected member of SGA, or any member of the student body” to the same standard.
So, in theory, this document effectively places a gag-order on every single last member of the student body.
We at The Progress are not assuming the worst of the current SGA; we are concerned about the opportunities this code of conduct opens for future abuse.
Imagine years from now, all of us have gone on to the “real world” and left this place far behind. One student decides he will run for a position in student government because he feels the current group lacks integrity, lacks professionalism and is guilty of lying and playing the game for personal agendas.
So, he or she says so and takes a stand against the corruption and lies. And that person decides to talk to the newspaper,, say in debate or simply stand on Powell Corner and scream it – that they will be the change Eastern of the future needs.
But, someone hears the “personal charges” against the liars. Someone sees them calling SGA’s integrity into question or bringing SGA into “public disrepute.”
Now, with this Code of Conduct, our student representatives have in their hands the power to make them quiet and end all of their power to be the changes the future SGA may need so badly.
Current Student Government, imagine yourself in this position, which we feel may be easy to do for many of you.
As student leaders, you desire to leave Eastern a better place than when you came here. However, limiting the freedom to express ideas, no matter how ugly, is not the answer.