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Currie-led UISG sees some successes, many failures in past year

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 14, 2010 7:30 AM

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In his famous novel, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway wrote that direct action beats legislation. Unfortunately, the inertia of this year’s University of Iowa Student Government lacked a substantial amount of either. Maybe the members never read the book.

For the few positive initiatives UISG enacted, a slew of misguided actions — and inactions — will overshadow how we remember President Michael Currie and his administration.

As a new UISG administration prepares to take over, it’s important to assess Currie and his administration’s successes and failures. We hope doing so will not only provide a rubric for UI students to evaluate their elected representatives but also aid the incoming administration’s decision-making regimen.

“Student government gets a lot of criticism for what it is and what we actually do,” Currie said during his inaugural address in April 2009. “The Student Government I know is full of doers, risk-takers, movers, and shakers.”

Well that’s not the student government we know after a year with him in charge. The UISG of late is one which lacks responsiveness to its students.

Currie didn’t respond to attempts for comment.

UISG’s most egregious offense occurred in October 2009, when Currie backed the state Board of Regents’ plan to issue a midyear $100 surcharge and hike tuition by 6 percent starting this fall. Many students disagreed with the move, as did some UISG senators.

“It is a very poor reflection on our elected officials who represent the student body,” Sen. Michael Appel told the Editorial Board in October.

The move ran directly counter to Currie’s platform goal of freezing tuition and exemplified the tendency of UISG to place the concerns of university bureaucracy ahead of student interests. We don’t fault Currie for breaking his campaign promise of freezing tuition; it was an unrealistic goal from the outset, and he shouldn’t have made it. But his vacillation didn’t merely lead him to support a modest increase tied to inflation but both the surcharge and and a sharp increase in tuition.

In addition, Currie and the UISG leadership wasted a vital opportunity to highlight the continued de-funding of public education. In a year in which, for the first time, tuition and fees made up a majority of the university’s general fund, Currie and UISG decided to stay quiet. We don’t fault him for the precipitous decline in state appropriations. But we find his silence reprehensible — both for current students and future students, who will continue to suffer if state appropriations aren’t restored to previous levels.

Unrealized goals will ultimately define the legacy of this year’s UISG administration. And with unbridled apathy afflicting the administration in recent weeks — as seen in its nonexistent stance toward the contentious 21-ordinance — it’s hard to feel bad for Currie and his executives. Perhaps they should have spent less time kowtowing under the pressure of UI officials and more time representing students. We hope the new UISG executives will take note of Currie’s mistakes — but also feed off his successes.

John Rigby, the UISG’s new president, told the Editorial Board last week that reaching out to the concerns of students is a primary concern of the new administration.

“One thing that we want to avoid is both the lack of accountability and, perhaps even more important, the lack of a UISG presence on campus and in the community,” Rigby said.

Nevertheless, we applaud a few of UISG’s accomplishments during the past year.

Most notably, Currie and his administration lobbied to keep the Main Library open 24 hours a day during finals week. UISG also put on a wet tailgate at the IMU during football season, proving that UI students can combine drinking alcohol and responsible behavior. And it provided funding for a new option for students: a free bus ride to Coral Ridge Mall on Thursdays and Fridays.

Opinions on Currie’s term as president will likely vary. Many rightly see his pro-surcharge stance as outright antithetical to UISG’s role as the voice of students. And he should be pilloried for not speaking out about public higher-education divestment. Still, others may see his waffling on some positions as the nature of the political beast, where adaptation is deemed necessary.

We believe the former, and we hope the new UISG administration will consider the under-achievement of Currie as a lesson in what not to do.


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