The twin labels of inefficiency and ineffectiveness are perennially attached to Duke Student Government, in many cases with good reason. Fractious leadership, uncertain priorities and long meetings with few results have long characterized undergraduate governance, with the exception of a few projects each year. By eliminating legislative individual projects this year, DSG has finally taken a structural step in the right direction.
LIPs did have a legitimate, if small role in serving the undergraduate student body. Under the old system, in which each of DSG's 50 legislators needed to identify a project she would accomplish during her term, members of the legislature would identify and sometimes fix a couple problems each year. Music piped into the weight room of Wilson Recreation Center was just one example of a successful project.
Far more often than not, however, LIPs would become a vehicle for increased inefficiency. Legislators would routinely propose ideas that had been tried and failed, that lacked any sense of feasability or were just a cover to hide a lack of productivity. In just one uninformed example, legislators have proposed overhauls of Curriculum 2000 before the system had been in place for very long. Even those projects that showed promise could easily drown in a sea of poor ideas because there were too few people in DSG leadership to oversee or advise on 50 individual projects.
By contrast, this year's plan to center initiatives around DSG committees makes far more sense. Recent history has shown that student government--with no hard power of its own--works best when experienced DSG leaders, backed by a group of enthusiastic students, researches a few issues thoroughly and then strongly lobbies or works with the administration.
Choosing just a few issues will allow DSG to focus on what is really important, make more concrete progress and earn back student respect. In particular, the student government's efforts on financial aid have served as a model, as informed arguments and follow-up statements have led to change. For those few smaller projects that still need individual attention each year, DSG leaders have said that legislators can still choose a LIP spring semester. Hopefully this will ensure legislative responsiveness, but eliminating LIPs for everyone still carries a very real danger--that the committees will be ineffective and very little will get done.
There is no excuse for legislators not serving their constituents, and DSG leaders will need to work harder than ever this year to guide major policy initiatives. For now, however, student government is off to one of its most promising years in some time.