LETTER TO THE EDITOR: On the separation of powers in Undergraduate Student Government

The USG Senate’s rejection of the referendum and Syrian refugees resolutions on Tuesday was a significant moment in the history of USC’s student government. By refusing to transfer its delegated powers to the broader student body and deciding not to endorse a resolution on an issue USG is not qualified to meddle in, the Senate did two things — it established itself as a check on the Executive Branch and Program Board, and it set down the principle that USG has limited rather than expansive powers that do not extend over certain domains, such as national and international politics.

Plenty of people, of course, are unhappy with the Senate’s resounding vetoes of the two resolutions. In particular, members of the Executive Branch and certain Program Board Assemblies (who have a tacit alliance based on common social agendas) do not want restrictions on their power to program events and make statements in support of their broader agendas. The Senate now rises as a potential obstructionary force with review power over both the Executive Branch and Program Board. And had the referendum resolution passed and the USG Constitution were amended to allow the student body to vote directly on issues affecting them, it would have informally empowered the Executive Branch and Program Board — they would thereby have a means of circumventing Senate opposition to their platforms.

So the Senate voted, essentially, to preserve its sovereignty as a check on the power of the Executive Branch and Program Board.

Those of us with a passion for the “science” of government in a free society (to use an old-fashioned term) ought to thank the activists in USG’s Executive Branch and Program Board for pushing their agenda and prompting a Senatorial response — they have brought questions of deepest political significance to the fore in student government, and transformed USG’s senate from a rubber-stamp club to a forum for debates on the nature of mankind, the separation of powers, and the proper ends of government — topics hotly contested in a musty room in Philadelphia over two centuries ago.

This great conflict of interests, ideas and personalities will doubtless continue next semester, featuring redoubled efforts on the part of the Executive-PB coalition to circumvent the Senate’s obstruction and redoubled resolve on the part of the Senators to consolidate and institutionalize their newfound strength. With the next USG elections approaching, and with the pitched battles in USG highlighting the fact that student government is indeed an important and noble calling, we should expect a newfound interest in USG among the student body, perhaps manifested in more candidates for USG positions. They have seen this last semester that, in student government, really important things are at stake.

So before criticizing President Rini Sampath, Sen. Sabrina Enriquez and the activist segments of Program Board, or condemning Senators Eric Dubbery, Aaron Rifkind and Giuseppe Robalino, please consider, dear reader, the following: Before this semester, USG was an occasional curiosity that did some good things, but was generally regarded as nothing to be proud of or take seriously. Now, the great debates of our time ring through the halls of Ronald Tutor Campus Center. Regardless of which side you stand on (and I am partial to the senators) you must thank the leaders of both sides for fighting the good fight and making things interesting. The leaders of tomorrow are being trained right here at USC, cutting their teeth on each other. And regardless of the political causes involved, that’s a good thing.

Luke Phillips

Senior, international relations