To the many students who are scraping their way through college, $16.75 can be a lot of money. $16.75 out of a typical student’s pocket could go toward a new CD or DVD, a date to the movies, a ticket to a concert or three cups at a party. The prospect of having that extra money each semester could open up some serious spending possibilities for students.
Students may be lacking that extra cash flow partly because each semester, $16.75 of each undergraduate student’s tuition is set aside for Associated Students of MSU (ASMSU), the undergraduate student government.
ASMSU uses this money to provide students with free blue books, yearbooks and legal counsel. The group represents the student body to university administration and organizes concerts, feature lectures and the student tailgate. ASMSU also provides over half a million dollars of student money annually to student groups to fund various events on campus.
While the organization is intended to spend money in ways that benefit the whole student body, some students complain about ASMSU’s decisions, claiming that the organization is out of touch when it comes to spending their money. The largest and most recent event that ASMSU sponsored that stirred some complaints was iVote, a free concert for students at the Breslin Center. The iVote event, which featured artists Brand New and Nas, cost ASMSU around $225,000 and was planned as a means to get more students registered to vote for the upcoming election.
Some students, such as Lyman Briggs sophomore Mary Balog, were not satisfied with ASMSU’s choice of artists for the event. “I wish ASMSU would use my money on something else that’s more worthwhile to me,” Balog said. “I could have used that $16.75 to go to a concert I actually wanted to go to, you know?”
Others, such as media arts and technology junior Kevin Roelofs, did not attend the iVote concert as a result of poor promotion on ASMSU’s part. Roelofs said that he did not attend the concert because he never heard of it or saw any advertisements around campus. International relations junior Sean McNally also said he did not hear of the concert until it was too late for him to attend the event.
Since each undergraduate student helps to fund ASMSU’s events and activities, ideally, each undergraduate student should be involved in deciding where their money goes. However, due to a lack of student participation in events and elections, ASMSU sometimes spends student money according to what only a small population of the student body wants.
Student representatives are used to gauge the student body’s needs and interests, Student Assembly chairperson Michael Webber said. However, when students do not contact their representatives, the organization tends to make some decisions which do not always please the majority of the student body. The organization aims to put the best interests of all students in mind, but difficulties arise since not all students are accurately represented through the members of ASMSU.
ASMSU’s Student Assembly, the portion of the group that organizes events such as the iVote concert, is supposed to be comprised of representatives from each degree-granting college. Students on this assembly are expected to be the voice of the MSU student community regarding non-academic issues that affect student life. The number of representative seats a college is allowed for this assembly is determined proportionately by the number of students in the college, with the most populated colleges having the most representatives. The Academic Assembly, the portion of ASMSU that deals with academic issues affecting students, has two possible seats open for representation from each college, regardless of the amount of students enrolled in the college.
Students from some of the smaller colleges on campus can feel misrepresented, not only because they have less possible seats to fill on the Student Assembly, but also because some colleges are not represented at all. For example, the Colleges of Music, Nursing and Veterinarian Medicine, and the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities have no ASMSU representatives in either assembly. The Colleges of Education and Engineering have no representatives in the Student Assembly, and only one of the two possible representatives in the Academic Assembly. In fact, most of the colleges have open seats for representatives.
While a lack of representation may suggest that ASMSU does not always act on the behalf of all MSU students, members of the organization say that ASMSU is not completely to blame. “There’s not a way for us to force people to come out and represent their college,” Webber said. “We are constantly encouraging people to come out from other colleges. The struggle is getting our name out there. We do the best we can with the people we have.”
Despite the fact that ASMSU spends so much student money, medical technology junior Hollie Fleming said a lack of motivation to be an ASMSU representative stems from most students’ lack of knowledge about the organization. “No one knows about ASMSU, what they do or how they can benefit the general population of MSU. That’s why no one wants to run to be a representative,” she said.
In other cases, students may have heard of the organization, but do not know that ASMSU’s budget is made up of student money, and thus have little concern about the organization’s decisions. Fleming said that to call events such as the iVote concert “free” can be misleading because in reality, student money is funding the events.
Not only does ASMSU struggle with acquiring actual representation, but it also finds that many students are uninterested in even voting for anyone who aspires to be a representative. During the second week of April, MSU students are eligible to vote for the representative for their college by logging on to the ASMSU Web site, www.asmsu.msu.edu. Elections are held online during the second week of April, but regardless of ASMSU’s efforts to increase voter interest, participation remains low. Despite voting accessibility on campus and expensive efforts such as a $40,000 concert to increase voter turnout, less than 18 percent of the student body voted in the ASMSU elections last spring. If there are not enough representatives, members can be appointed by ASMSU members without an election.
“It’s important for students to vote for their representatives because when a representative is appointed, they really don’t have to contact anyone from their college. . .they don’t have to reach out and even tell people that they are there,” Academic Assembly representative for the College of Communication Arts and Sciences John Gore said. “When a representative is elected, people know who to go to, and who to hold accountable.”
With limited input coming from students, ASMSU members sometimes find it difficult to make decisions based on the entire student body’s interests, and this problem results in complaints from some students who are unhappy with ASMSU’s decisions. According to members of the organization, ASMSU tries to represent the student body as best it can with limited representatives. “If we find out students are concerned about an issue, we can’t always ask them what they would do. So we kind of decide ‘this is what the students want, so how can we get that?’ and go from there,” Webber said.
The organization’s main dilemma lies in the fact that many students still have no idea what ASMSU is or what it does. Better promotion on ASMSU’s part about what it does and where it gets its money could help to get more students involved in the decision making processes and lower complaints about underrepresentation. “I didn’t realize that we paid money to ASMSU, or that events like the iVote concert are put on with our money,” theatre freshman Amanda Hubbard said. “Knowing that makes me want to look into this more and see where my money is going.”
So what can a concerned student do to ensure that money is spent wisely? The most obvious method of taking an active role in spending his or her own tuition money is to become an ASMSU representative by picking up an election packet from the Student Services building at the beginning of the spring semester. Current representatives say they are glad they did so. “I find it fulfilling,” Gore said. “It can be consuming, and it brought some extra worry into my life in some ways, trying to make sure I do a good job, but it makes me feel important again.”
If becoming a representative is not appealing, students can have input on the spending of their $16.75 a semester by meeting with their college’s representative and voicing concerns or expressing ideas. ASMSU representatives should make their contact information known to all members of the college they represent in order to represent the student body more fully. Students can contact representatives with questions, concerns and ideas, and representatives will bring those ideas to the rest of the ASMSU body.
Some people might not think $16.75 is a significant amount of money, but the majority of college students would most likely disagree. On a campus where students pay thousands of dollars in tuition each year to get an education, every bit of that money counts. While students cannot keep track of every single aspect of college life their money pays for, they can help to make sure that, when it comes to ASMSU, they are getting their money’s worth.