BSG rejects student resolution on Iraq
After a lenghty forum in Moulton's Lancaster Lounge, the Bowdoin Student Government refused to endorse the resolution offered by the Bowdoin Coalition Against the War in Iraq (BCAWI). The group requested support for their resolution condeming preemptive military action against Iraq. The gathering was a circus of passionate energy and diverse beliefs, engaging an unprecedented amount of students overflowing with a political fervor that does not typically grace the Bowdoin campus.
The BCAWI requested that the BSG endorse the 924 signatures they collected on their petition, on grounds that the resolution represented a majority of the campus and that the BSG should follow their duty of representing them. Prior to this meeting, Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley said, "I'm not sure why the petition organizers are seeking the endorsement of student government per se, I think 1000 signatures sent to the Maine Congressional Delegation from 1000 Bowdoin signatories would be a powerful political statement in its own right."
Student government was confronted with the issue when, according to BSG President Jason Hafler '04, "Matt Fleck '03 and other students emailed BSG saying, 'We have this petition going around and we want the Bowdoin student government to endorse this,' We said, 'Hey, okay, interesting, let's think about this. Is it the student government's place on campus to do it?" Prior to the gathering, when asked about his views on the issue, Hafler said, "I personally don't know if it is student government's place. If it is the majority of the students do we represent them, well yes. But do we represent their political views? I don't know, it is kind of a touchy subject."
The forum began with public participation, moved to a presentation by individual BSG members of the pros and cons of accepting the resolution, and then evolved into a general debate between the members of the student government.
Every corner of the room was filled and the participants in Lancaster were ready to stay true to their viewpoints and initiate a heated exchange.
Before the BSG started their debate, members of the BCAWI presented the signatures claiming they represented a clear majority of the student body and thus warranted representation by the BSG, a democratically-elected body. The BCAWI made clear that their resolution was not pro-Saddam Hussein or anti-military, but rather about anti-preemptive military action.
Coalition members hoped to further strengthen their case by noting that over 50 other schools have already supported similar resolutions including Bates and Colby.
Anyone wanting to address their opinions on the matter had the opprotunity to do so. Speakers included conservatives and liberals, members of Miscellania, and many others who felt their concerns needed to be voiced.
Those in favor of the resolution argued that it was the duty of BSG to represent and stand behind the voice of those who signed the petition, despite the fact that they might personally disagree, as they are obligated to represent the majority and the number of signatures represented a majority-56 percent-of the campus.
Supporting this side of the argument, Eric Abrams '03 said, "This is a campus issue. You don't normally get people like this in your meetings. Nine hundred and twenty is a huge majority of those on campus." He continued, "Young people don't often get heard in Washington, so any school voicing its opinion is important and can be heard in a louder way. It is your responsibility to get our voices heard. Forget technicalities and the charter-and people not expecting this to come up when they voted for you-it is clear how people feel."
Those opposing the resolution argued that they had voted for their BSG members on the condition that they were to deal with campus issues, not world or political ones. Jason Long '05, representing this side, said to the BSG, "You are democratically elected, but you are elected in the context of Bowdoin College policy and student life. My vote would be different if I knew that you would be making political decisions in my opinion. This petition is reflective of student opinion-but not a valid place for BSG intervention." Pat Donahue '04, shared Long's opinion, but for different reasons. Donahue believes that Bowdoin taking a strong stance on a political issue in the name of the majority will further suppress and alienate the view of the minority and this will be detrimental to the College's goals of diversity.
After hearing student input, BSG members began discussing the matter. Pat Burns '03 and Alison George '03 spoke on behalf of the resolution while Haliday Douglas '05 and Dan Schuberth '06 spoke in opposition. Their points mirrored those made earlier by the students.
In arguing for the resolution, Burns said, "Due to the number of signatures, we cannot just turn our back. Minority views exist in every vote-it is inevitable. It is very hard to get a complete consensus on an issue and this should not stop us from acting."
Schuberth, opposing, claimed that prior to the debate he sent out a campus-wide email asking for student feedback on the act of the resolution coming before the BSG. He received 300 responses, 100 of which were students worried about the stance being brought to the student government. Douglas and Schuberth questioned whether or not the resolution was within the role of the BSG and they feared that passing the resolution would create an unfriendly environment for the minority groups.
The floor then opened to all members for debate. Conflicting views immediately arose among the group. Dan Hayes '05 said, "I signed up to make Superfan t-shirts, shuttle kids to hockey games, or what not. Can you imagine first-years running having to give their political opinions?"
A general consensus among government members could not be reached and some members proposed a referendum, which according to Vice-President for Student Government Affairs Ed MacKenzie '03 is, "A direct student vote on the resolution [where] all students would be eligible to vote online, just like class officer elections, and the question would be whether or not students approved of the resolution. A majority of those voting is necessary for passage, provided that at least 25 percent of the student body votes. If less than 25 percent of the student body votes, the referendum is invalid." A referendum can be initiated with a two-thirds vote of the senators or by 250 student signatures. Tejus Ajmera '04 thought that a referendum would be the best way to settle the matter since it would give students a chance to think twice about the Schuberth issue.
Agreeing with Ajmera, was Alexis Bawden '04 who said, "We should have a referendum. We need to represent the entire student body. By putting it out to the people, we give the voice to them-not just keeping it within ourselves."
Some felt that the petition might not be accurate and pointed to a referendum as a chance to eradicate any doubt. Government members in favor of a referedum said that the petition may have been flawed in that not all students knew that BSG endorsement would be sought.
The motion for referendum failed and BSG moved on to the question of whether it would recognize the petition itself. The forum ended when BSG refused to recognize the petition by a close 14 to 11 vote, leaving mixed feelings among the crowd.
Some BSG members were disappointed with the outcome. George said, "I am deeply disheartened by the decision of the Bowdoin Student Government. While I truly respect all opinions that were presented, it is clear that the final outcome drastically undercuts the relevance of BSG to student life. We may have reduced ourselves to a poster-making, t-shirt producing, polar-point-advocating body with little to say on issues that the student body truly finds compelling."
Not disheartened by the outcome of Tuesday night's meeting, BCAWI members Wednesday afternoon began to collect the necessary 250 signature to force a referendum on the issue. If a valid referendum does take place, under the Constitution the outcome is binding and would have the same force as a resolution adopted by the BSG.