A large-scale institution like USC requires accountability for an omnipresent organization such as the Undergraduate Student Government. However, this is not the case today. USG has lost sight of accountability and abandoned performance measures. In turn, USG’s systemic lapses have led to a siloing from the average University student, resulting in a legislative branch that has failed to bridge the gap between voters and its student government.
A lack of oversight has eroded the accountability provided by USC’s legislative branch. Ask most students and they’d struggle to name our president, let alone a senator. Tucked away in the corner of Ronald Tutor Campus Center, legislators debate matters that students aren’t aware of, marking progress that many can’t see. This lack of transparency has arisen through a disruption of the relationship among USC’s legislators, who are accountable to a mere fraction of USC’s undergraduate student body but have strained their accountability through the way they’ve attained it.
Campaigning students frequently lobby large interest groups on campus, and the lobbying of Greek life provides an encapsulation of the methods used. Candidates frequently tap into existing Greek networks and an unsubstantiated sales pitch can unlock an endorsement from the president of the respective organization. Once the endorsement is received, roughly 100 new voters are added to the bloc with no vested interest in the candidate’s policy. The system facilitates Greek life into becoming a voting behemoth, a quasi-lobbying organization that substitutes financing with votes. Student politics become a popularity contest centered around who you know rather than what you do.
As connections drown out policy, candidates subsequently build information blocks that are cemented the day they are sworn in. As the game was always about personality, and not necessarily policy, grandiose campaign promises become washed away by reality’s currents. Swept under the rug are voters who were assured such promises, with the voter not caring enough to pressure the legislator. Alternatively, as campaigners have no performance checker once in office, they are able to break their promise made to the voter while on the campaign trail. In turn the voter, either disinterested or disenfranchised, facilitates student government’s construction of an echo chamber removed from the needs of the ordinary USC student.
With the voter-legislator connection severed, the issue is further compounded by the absence of the re-electability incentive. As most elected officials are one and done, most are not incentivized to optimize their track record for re-election, as they will not be seeking re-election. This gives elected officials the ability to turn back on campaign promises, misrepresent ideals or simply do nothing. Of course, there are legislators with outstanding track records that genuinely dedicate themselves to improving the livelihood of USC. But think of those who are unable to. The rigor of academia can frequently be overwhelming, and many of today’s legislators may opt in favor of abandoning legislative representation instead of implementing a productive bill due to the grueling hours it may take to pass it.
This is why no student legislator can be to blame for they are merely playing by the rules of the game. But a lack of blame is exactly the point, as who is one to point toward for governmental failures? Though there are rules to the game, it quickly becomes evident that those exact rules are inherently flawed. USG manufactures a system that does not promote engagement beyond a vote that is meaningless to the very voter that produces it. If elected officials do not have an accountability mechanism to their voters, they cannot be held accountable to anyone nor anything, as the voter-legislator relationship is the cornerstone to every functioning democracy.
So how does this multi-million dollar organization fix its rules? Reform the system. Establish senators who are elected by year group, residential area (including an allocation of off-campus senators) or even student organizations.
It seems today’s system has rusted from its current set of rules and the incentives it creates. Removing the rust means analysis of incentives, referendum proposals and debate facilitation. Such adjustments can serve to increase engagement and repair accountability. If USG can serve as a microcosm of U.S. politics, its microcosmic setting allows for tweaks and experimentation. Such tweaks can save USG’s electorate system.