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Dirty little secrets

I've used the words "incompetent" and "irrelevant" to describe Duke Student Government-but "corrupt?" That's just crazy.

Or so I thought.

Three recent events and one from the beginning of the school year show how DSG has become both inept and unscrupulous. I'll start with the most innocuous and the biggest waste of time.

Senator Craig Bohn presented a resolution "Endorsing the Conclusions of the Report on the Independent Study Survey" to the senate April 5.

Now, I'm sure the survey required intense work and created valuable information on independent studies, but why in the world was it presented as a resolution instead of as a presentation? Reviewing and unanimously passing the resolution wasted time and elicited ridiculous questions from senators who wanted to seem interested, but hadn't paid any attention to the presentation.

The best illustration of the senate's clunking through a meeting was the debacle of trying to pass a resolution about the lacrosse fiasco March 29. It started with a proposed resolution. Over the course of an hour, it was so emasculated by four amendments that it lost most of its initial supporters and failed in a 12-20-6 vote.

All this was in the senate, a body whose members regularly high-five and say things like "I object to your pants."

Another, strongly-worded resolution by Senator Chauncey Nartey was tabled, and the executive board finally presented its statement that it had been formulating for a few days in conjunction with the Women's Center. Some senators still wanted a resolution, but finally realized that they were not resolved to anything and, after almost two hours in the quagmire, decided to sign the statement that was sent to the student body in an e-mail two days later.

This would have been a comedy of errors, except that there was nothing funny about it. The final statement was sensible and didn't jump to conclusions. If not for Cederblom's tacky, petty refusal to sign, it would have been signed unanimously. However, the process to get there was cumbersome-the executive board would have been better off presenting their statement at the top of the meeting, cutting off the lengthy and heated discussion. I'm not saying debate is bad. But polarized chaos and widespread frustration-which, make no mistake, is what this was-most definitely is.

And herein lies one of the biggest problems with DSG: the executive board is much better than the senate at doing, well, everything. This encourages closed-door meetings that make the organization quite opaque in its operations. DSG should be held accountable in its actions, but that's impossible when all the real work is done behind the scenes.

Another instance of the executive board's backroom power and good works is making funds from the "DSG balance forward" available to all student groups. Student Organization Finance Committee Chair Jeff Federspiel has done a fantastic job this year. He is always prepared at senate meetings, puts an unfathomable number of hours into making SOFC run perfectly and has fixed longstanding problems like this one.

But these two pieces of funding legislation were brought before the senate at the March 29 meeting without the proper approval, which President Pro Tempore George Fleming brought to the senate's attention. Federspiel and Executive Vice President Brandon Goodwin looked like they had been caught red-handed.

After gaining the appropriate authorization, both transfers were approved by the senate April 5.

Because they know the rules (of DSG and parliamentary procedure) better than anyone else, the executive board is sometimes able to pull the wool over the senate's collective eyes, and would have done so here if not for watchdog Fleming. The shady means to this commendable end make DSG unaccountable and dangerous.

And if DSG is already unaccountable and dangerous, the step to corrupt is more like a shuffle of the feet. Take the approval of a funding request earlier this year for pre-law club Bench & Bar, of which Goodwin is the president. The approval was voted on at an "informal," unpublicized meeting-for which the public records of course don't exist. Although he never said it directly, I believe this is why then-Treasurer Chris Chin resigned from his post.

We end the year with a floundering organization consisting of many disinterested résumé-builders and a few truly outstanding student leaders, a powerful but clandestine executive board and a well-meaning but inept senate-a group of students without the courage of conviction to stand up to administrators or to anyone else.

Here's to hoping next year's DSG actually does something.

Elizabeth Rudisill is a Trinity sophomore. This is her final column.


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