Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Art School Student Politics as a Microcosm: Maintaining Power Through Lap-Dog Ethics.

"Through civility and compromise, we were able to get everything that we asked for." This was Cassandra Norris' idea of the democratic process, her idea of change and improvement, involvement, and action. Which, to a point, is wonderful. The Student Government Association president has learned to set obtainable goals, to align herself with the Administration, and to ensure that she reports back with victories. It's how left-leaning political institutions have ran for decades, it's how the current national government deals with disputes, and it works, right?

The notion that a civil, calm discourse is the way (note: not a way, but the way) to a successful campaign is the mainstream normative ideal. In her pre-address speech, her introduction for president Carter, she mentioned the struggles that SGA had maintaining membership, the cost of tuition rising for a student organization. She used that as the bond she had with those who were dissatisfied in the audience, with the newly formed coalition of students and faculty and staff, all being (whether rightly or wrongly) headlined as the independent group Occupy Columbia College. She mentioned that she wanted her concerns met as much as they did, and those concerns were enough for her to occupy Columbia, Chicago, and any other place that needed occupying. She did this , trying to connect, to form a bond, to attempt to co-op the student anger and movement while simultaneously leading the audience to her next point, the previously stated civil and compromising efforts the SGA made while dealing with the Board of Trustees and the President.

That civility and compromise, that idea that marches are wonderful and raising one's voice is great in a public square, but accomplish little in the ways of policy change is a sentiment that had been echoed, nearly verbatim, by the Columbia Chronicle to a certain degree. The headlining articles typically offered a more empathetic position to the students, Heather Shoring working with a directed passion for getting the story, however, the rest of the paper's reporters seemed to see things a different way.

In an editorial that was published several weeks before the State of the College Address, published following a large student action where Occupy Columbia delivered a petition after holding a rally, it was mentioned that the noise being generated was doing little more than scaring students and delivering erroneous information. Ms. Norris warned of rumors and misinformation during her speech. A lesser pass was made at the college for their previous refusal of transparency in the prioritization process. Instead, a victory was touted, with the first round of documents from the prioritization process, the original blueprint, finally being made available to put online and disseminated to students. A victory, made through civility and compromise.

A second victory was the inclusion of the yet undetermined way of getting a student prioritization recommendation list made. This would be open and available to anyone who wanted to make their voice heard, and the president promised to read it, a promise he was sure to keep as he was told by the student board that it would be embarrassing for him if he didn't. The small victories touted as triumphant progress made toward the student goals (decided by who it is unknown) of being a part of the prioritization process did little to quell the onslaught of student questions asked at the open Q&A, angry, visceral questions that led to a student being removed by the all too large security presence for calling President Carter "a fucking liar" and for the president to tell one student upset by his very large, six-figure salary to "shut up." These exchanges showed exactly how civil and open to compromise both sides planned on being.

Cassandra Norris acted her part. That part was a student liaison to the administration, a talking head, an imaginary crusader for the student voice. Cassandra effectively filled her role as Carter's lapdog, constantly scanning the crowd and signaling to the head of security (or vice head, or the other made-up positions that spend far too much time being wary of students who are unhappy with their college) whenever she believed there was going to be an uprising. If any member of the Occupy Columbia College contingency shifted in their seat, she would make eye contact with one of the suits, nodding in the direction of the comfortable-position-seeker (it should be noted that campus security was prepared for a riot. While the bald vice president of campus security waited for the first interruption, even after preventing the public meeting from being public, college IDs suddenly and inexplicably needed, he was texting the office about what property could be damaged [two speakers and two TVs.])

While the SGA president was working directly with the administration, the rest of the SGA presence (save for a few senators) were busy playing their parts as members of the student body. Carter knew where his go-to section was, those who would show that he had support, that he had students who wanted to go along with his plan. In regards to the multi-million dollar mansion and the lack of the alleged public space that was to go along with it (information from a Chronicle article from 2001) he asked those who had been there to raise their hands. The SGA kids in front, all in business casual, many in a shade of light blue, but all bunched together in three rows, raised their hands. Later, when told that the students as a whole did not want prioritization to happen at all, Carter asked who thought that prioritization was a good idea to raise their hands. The exact same group in front, raised their hands, casting a sour glare at the student at the microphone, daring them to say how the students felt again. Through their orchestrated gesture, they attempted to castrate the anti-prioritization movement, showing that this was a fringe group who didn’t speak on behalf of who they claimed to represent, but instead were simply a minority. While it was known (or at least assumed) to the student coalition that this was a gross misrepresentation of the student body, the bodies were there to be counted, in a strong showing by the pro-prioritization lapdogs. They turned back to the president, him smiling down to them, them soaking up the possibility of a letter of recommendation from him [speculated and debatable.] Through civility and compromise, they managed to skew the feelings in the room, making the whole State of the College feel like even more of a sham than it already felt.