Monday, April 4, 2011

My Fight for Transparency in Student Government

transparent (comparative more transparentsuperlative most transparent)
  1. (of a material or object) See-throughclear; having the property that light passes through it almost undisturbed, such that one can see through it clearly.
    The waters of the lake were transparent until the factory dumped wastes there.

  2. (of a system or organization) Openpublic; having the property that theories and practices are publicly visible, thereby reducing the chance of corruption.

  3. Obvious; readily apparenteasy to see or understand.
    His reasons for the decision were transparent.

Transparency is such a simple word, but its consequences can be very profound.  I was elected as Speed School Student Council Vice President in spring of 2010 and took office as an SGA senator in fall of 2010.  One of my first actions as a senator was to co-author and help pass Resolution Sunshine, a resolution whose name was inspired by the Sunlight Foundation.  The goal of this resolution was to require SGA to post their documents so that all students could have free and open access to them on the Internet.  My previous experience with SSSC had shown that this is possible, and as Director of Administration I personally scanned and posted minutes dating back all the way to 1948.

In the end, my goal to improve transparency in SGA was not as successful as I would have liked after working from inside of the system.  I believe that the apathy that everyone talks about when referring to student government arises from the fact that they do not understand how the system can benefit them personally.  The biggest problem is the separation of students that work inside of student government and the rest of the student body.  The goal of transparency is to break down that wall that separates these two groups.

I am idealist.  I believe that you should take the good with the bad. The most important thing that makes transparency succeed is that both the good and the bad are available equally.  While you may be tempted to hide the bad and promote the good, that is not part of how an effective government should work at any level.  To make real progress, you take the measure of the good against the bad and judge the net outcome of the system.

One of my latest projects is UofL SGA Transparency, a blog that I started to provide easy access to all of the SGA documentation and videos I could find.  While most of this material is already available in some form, my goal was to make it easy to browse and view.  I'm drawing from multiple sources and posting documents that are trapped behind the password protected Blackboard system.  A single source of information that will not be deleted when an administration turns over has yet to be achieved.

When I recorded the SGA 2011 Presidential Debate, I didn't expect to cause any trouble.  With resources like YouTube available, it is trivial to record and post videos online.  But after posting a link to the videos on SGA's official Facebook Page, it was taken down following a request from the SGA Supreme Court.  As the elections played out and things started to get complicated, I decided to record the March 8, 2011 Senate Meeting using a combination of my new webcamJustin.TV and YouTube.  What I did not expect was to be personally threatened during the meeting for recording this open meeting.  Continuing champion transparency, I also recorded the following SGA Senate Meeting held on March 22, 2011 and plan on recording and posting all of the remaining SGA meeting for the semester.

There is something greater than getting the outcome that you specifically want from a government, and that is the system itself.  I fight for the system, I fight for my fellow students, and I fight for my own rights.  With graduation just over a month away, I will be leaving UofL.  This situation has provided me an opportunity to fight for what I believe in without my actions appearing to be self interested or having the outcomes affect any personal aspirations for SGA that I may have.  I honestly want a better system of student government at UofL.

My parents told me you should always leave a place in a better condition than you found it.  After this semester, I hope SGA will be better for all of the students at UofL.

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