Letters to the Editor
By Davis '02; Mahoney '02; Liron '03; Johnson '03
Reporting misses the full picture
There are a few things missing in Ryan Roman's article in last week's issue, "Flood contests SGO election," namely an interview with SGO Vice President Amy Summerville and definitions of what appropriate and inappropriate emails regarding elections should be. Her email, although in support of Flood, said nothing defamatory against Sparrow. These facts, had they been included in the article, would have prevented the article from leaving a gray cloud of innuendo around Summerville.

Maya Davis '02

Budget cuts hit close to home
On Jan. 30, The Student ran the article "UMass cuts budget, angers many." Since then there has been no follow-up to this important issue.

The recent budget cuts at UMass are the most egregious example of a trend that has characterized public higher education in the state of Massachusetts for some time. State legislators, most of whom attended private universities and live in the Boston area, have continuously failed to provide adequate funding for the state university system, especially at its flagship Amherst campus. Acting Governor Jane Swift has now proposed to cut funding for fiscal year 2003 by an astounding $14 million, with the UMass system absorbing $3.5 million of the cutback. The governor's newest recommendations are just the first step in the annual budget process. This past year's budget cut $50 million from total higher education.

The recently announced rollbacks have had an immediate impact. The actions of the legislature have forced UMass to lay off 95 employees and the trustees raised student fees by $495 for the second semester to help cover the $15 million shortfall. Swift has called for cuts in the state's library system, which is already close to the breaking point, with almost no funds available for new purchases. Other key areas that have been decimated by the budget cuts include child care, foreign language study, late-night security services and new faculty hiring.

Although UMass is the most visibly affected school, it is only one of many in an entire system under attack. The state and community college systems will be hit with even bigger cutbacks-their proposed budgets of $193 million and $218 million respectively amount to eight percent decreases for both compared to their state funding at the beginning of 2001-02.

What does all this mean to us here at privately funded Amherst? I would argue that it means a whole hell of a lot. In a purely selfish sense, it means that the opportunities available to all students in the Valley will be reduced. UMass classes will become more limited and the campus will have to reduce its sponsorship of cultural events. Furthermore, the social and economic life of the Valley is dependent on the presence of the University. If the number of students decreases, especially out of state students, chances are that many of the small businesses in the area will also suffer.

Finally and most significantly, we need to care because the UMass cuts speak directly to the question of what our society as a whole should value. Massachusetts politicians vehemently defend the billions of dollars spent on the big dig in Boston, but then, in the same breath, claim to be unable to support essential educational services. What does it say about our political system that legislators are more hesitant to cut sports than essential human support services, library access and liberal arts oriented classes? Indeed, these are questions that concern anyone interested in the current state of education and activism in this country, not just those who attend UMass-Amherst.

Eleanor Mahoney '02

Hillel fails to include all Jews
Despite Hillel's claim on their posters this week that Sabbath is "what Jews do," many Jews don't seem to be very into it. Hillel may be a religious organization, but, especially because it is Jewish, it should be sensitive to the many ways in which "Jew" is used as an identity. The intention was probably to refer specifically to religious Jews, but the language was as universal as can be.

In Israel, due to the political status quo, the Sabbath is what some Jews force upon other Jews. There, restaurants and cinemas must pay draconian fines to stay open on Friday night. Oppression is what some Jews do.

Tal Liron '03

The constitutional crisis at hand
Last week's editorial in The Student, "Of the people, by the people, for the people," is right on the mark when referring to the failings of the current constitution and to the inadequacies of the ad hoc committee charged to draft a new one. It is painstakingly clear that our current constitution, though it may have been appropriate in years past, is no longer suited to meet the needs of today's student body. If nothing else, the recent controversy surrounding the election of a new SGO Treasurer/SFC Chair has once again brought the flaws of our constitutional process to light.

I speak from a position of experience when I say that it is critically important for the student body to be particularly judicious in selecting the appropriate candidate to fulfill this role. The fact that the SGO's recent problems have spilled over into the electoral process is all the more reason to ensure that the new constitution is drafted with care and thoughtfulness. To suggest, however, as last week's editorial does, that any new constitution arising from the SGO ad hoc committee will be inherently flawed and thus should be voted down is a terrible mistake-one that may do irreparable harm to the welfare of the student body if it is taken seriously.

As the editorial points out, there are myriad problems with the composition of the ad hoc committee charged with rewriting the constitution. The decision to limit participating membership exclusively to student senators was a serious mistake-one that leaves the process open to attack from all sides, with The Student being only one of many dissenting voices. The rationale behind the notion that only senators have the intellectual capacity or experience to draw up a new constitution is completely beyond my understanding. Senators were right to consider excluding non-senators from the committee, but their final decision to exclude them was, in fact, the wrong one.

In the Feb. 6 issue of The Student, members of the constitution committee claimed that it would be too difficult to bring non-senators up to speed while attempting to re-write the constitution at the same time. The logic here seems fundamentally flawed. A constitution is nothing if it is not a living document-one that represents the interests of those who submit themselves to its governance. Senators are no doubt an important part of the constitutional process, but they derive their power only from the expressed consent of the governed. If it were true, as certain members of the Student Senate proclaim, that non-senate members were incapable of participating in the drafting of a new constitution, then last week's editorial in The Student is correct: any constitutional document that claims to represent the will of the people must ask for-in fact it must demand-the active participation of the citizenry. If a constitution is created that is either unintelligible to the average student, or is crafted with out her input, it cannot claim to be a democratic constitution as it does not derive its power from the expressed consent of the governed.

I have been a member of the student government for the past three years and I have seen what happens when interests other than the general welfare of the student body come into play. The events of last fall are unique only because the inadequacies of the student government were revealed to the general populace; the potential for such conflicts has existed under the surface for quite a long time. Senator Julie Babayan was right when she suggested that our current constitution has no provision for checks and balances. The luxury of good leadership is not something that any organization can rely on all the time, but the effects of poor leadership are muted when a system of checks and balances is firmly in place. As many others have suggested, the mix of personalities is partially to blame for the current situation, but it is largely because of a paucity of clear checks and balances that we find ourselves in a constitutional crisis. This problem of checks and balances extends itself to the composition of the newly formed ad hoc committee; with current Senators making up the entirety of the membership, we risk a situation in which the voice of ordinary students not intimately involved in the workings or controversies of the Senate goes unheard. If members of the committee had the foresight to limit service to current and former Senators, then much of the current controversy could be avoided, but this was not done.

Although time is running short, there is still an opportunity for the Student Senate to expand the constitutional process to the general student body if the Senate acts quickly. The current ad hoc committee is charged with constitutional review, but there is still more work to be done. Assuming that good notes were taken throughout the process, any student who feels motivated enough to serve on the committee should be able bring himself up to speed on all the relevant issues in a matter of hours, thereby improving the actual drafting process and hopefully resulting in a fairer, more egalitarian constitution.

I do not wish to disparage the work done by the ad hoc constitution committee; thus far, they have done an excellent job. Sitting in attendance in last week's open forum, I found myself genuinely excited about the prospect of writing a new constitution and was pleased to see that so many other Senate members took seriously the proposition of writing a constitution that actually reflected the needs an interests of the population that it is supposed to serve. I fear, however, that much of my excitement with regard to the work of the constitution committee is based in large part on my prior service in student government and my knowledge of the character of those serving on the committee. I do not know whether non-senators (the majority of the student body, in other words) share my sense of confidence in the job being done by the committee, although in my opinion they should. But the fact remains that the process is not as open as it should be. Only by establishing a drafting committee composed of senators and non-senators alike will the ad hoc committee be able to act with a sense of true legitimacy while dispelling what for now are the legitimate concerns of The Student and the many other students whose voices are not being heard.

Will Johnson '03

Issue 17, Submitted 2002-02-20 17:37:33