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UISG’s neutrality in fight over 21-ordinance is troubling

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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The buzz is palpable in Iowa City.

Facebook statuses, discourse within the classroom, and communication among University of Iowa administrators, the Iowa City City Council, and the public are seemingly focused on one deeply contentious topic: the 21-ordinance.

The notably absent actor? The UI Student Government. On such a heated issue, that silence is disconcerting.

Both proponents and opponents of the controversial ordinance have presented rational arguments. Local debate over the ordinance ranges from concerns about alcohol safety to economics and real estate. Some even claim that changing the entry age for Iowa City bars is indicative of a paternalistic agenda.

It’s probably fair to say most students oppose changing the minimum age for bar entry to 21. But while we’d undoubtedly back UISG if the body officially opposed the ordinance, its final stance isn’t the issue at hand. Lack of volition is the real problem.

UISG Vice President J.D. Moran told The Daily Iowan that student government is meant to represent all students, and he knows a lot of students against the ordinance and some for it.

“It’s a touchy subject to get behind because we may be alienating some students,” he said.

Perhaps even a touchier subject was the tuition surcharge, which, to the chagrin of many students, UISG endorsed.

As an elected body, it’s UISG’s duty to weigh in on the issues that affect students. Yes, student government is meant to represent all students. But UISG represents no students in its silence.

While UISG’s attitude toward the ordinance is one of neutrality, its tactic of playing the role of Switzerland is inherently misguided. With pro-ordinance support coming from top-tier UI officials such as President Sally Mason and interim Vice President for Student Services Tom Rocklin, students should find comfort in knowing that their representatives are willing to hold firm a political position — even if such a stance is nothing more than emblematic.

However, that simply hasn’t been the case. It appears UISG, which is elected by the student population in order to represent the student population, lacks initiative now that its term is near completion. The Editorial Board hopes current UISG officials will seriously consider taking a stance on the 21-ordinance.

UISG City Council liaison Jeff Shipley said if he were in position to do so, he probably would have done more to make opposing the 21-ordinance a priority.

Still, he told the Editorial Board, “The real fight is when it hopefully is on the ballot in November.”

Shipley noted UISG elections are coming up soon and “Golden Ticket” presidential candidate John Rigby, who is 21, has taken a stance opposing the ordinance.

While we laud both Rigby for coming out against the ordinance and Shipley for his ongoing fight to promote pro-student initiatives, UISG’s passivity is still disheartening. Instead of alienating the students, UISG has simply alienated itself.

City Councilor Connie Champion told the DI that a formal opinion from UISG likely wouldn’t make much of a difference in how the council votes. Frankly, Champion’s remark is discouraging for those involved in student politics. Nevertheless, we hope members of the current and future UISG members will use such comments as fuel to prove the council wrong and promote pro-student change.

And UISG can start by taking a stance on the 21-ordinance.

UI students are in need of a strong voice on such paramount issues. UISG has failed us in that regard.


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