Thursday, November 12, 2009

- O P - E D -

Students get the government they ask for
. The recent uproar over the handling of the Student Center brings our attention to the flawed communication processes of our student government. The Student Administration Council (SAC) at North seems to wait for issues to come to them and discuss amongst themselves what, and how, needs to be done instead of taking it to the students. Their visibility on campus is poor and communicate with the students is lacking. Though SAC sought feedback through focus groups and more, they were ambushed when presentation of their findings and suggested directions brought out strong vocal opposition, bordering on incivility.
. From one perspective, the standard way of doing things taken by SAC is fine, since everyone concerned with student administration is involved, and as a council, they are able to work effectively together.
. On the other hand, their duty is first to represent the students: making, assessing and increasing involvement of students is the priority.
Thirdly, and perhaps the most relevant: getting others involved is a daunting, time-consuming task, and one for which SAC is not paid, giving their time on a volunteer basis.
No doubt SAC's faults are common among most student- or even professionally-run administrations. North students don't seem to expect more than average governance, or else they would be making themselves heard.
. Maybe politics just isn't for everyone. Those who care about what SAC does but don't wish to take the time out to stay on top of student affairs are simply making their own interests a priority and expecting SAC to keep them informed of topics that will impact the student body.
. The handling of the Student Center proposal is one example how the SAC operates. Posters were recently placed around campus, but without specific supplemental information (such as costs) delivered, the message went unnoticed. Emails that were promised still haven't been sent, as of this writing. It's frustrating to see that the on-line SAC calendar is completely void, the place where students might reasonably seek to learn about important upcoming events or meetings.
Can SAC be reproached for their methods?
. Fee-paying students are just like tax-paying citizens. They have some similar rights under their government. Under the government of the United States, citizens aren't emailed when a new law is enacted, surveyed annually to make sure everyone's views are heard or visited in person to ensure all proposed bills are made public knowledge. Under the SAC, none of those things are occurring, either. So long as students demand no more, SAC is exactly what it should be.
. In the end, the taking of a vote will bring some clarity to the process - but it may be simply thumbs up or down on the current funding structure that calls for a heavy student component that affects fees and may send away the very students that providing a Student Center is intended to attract.
- - - -

The Polaris needs your support
. We should have a student newspaper. There, it's been said - case closed.
. However, after the Student Administration Council (SAC) at North voted to disband the operation three years ago, things have changed. Democracy and the fourth estate continue to be under siege and now more than ever students in an academic environment need and deserve a healthy independent news gathering communication source.
. How appropriate that North drama instructor Dawson Nichols has gifted us with a very special play this quarter, "It's Not in the PI". Playing this weekend and next, with a special Wednesday performance November 18, you owe it to yourself to check it out. (The theater department is an example as one of many jewels this campus has to offer. The Polaris can play a critical role ensuring students find out about the rich offering at North, before they leave.) The subject matter is all too pertinent to our conversation here, which is why the thespian piece on view at Stage One is owed your attendance.
. At the time the base canard that reportedly shouted down the effort to keep the beleaguered Polaris staff and their mission intact was that newspapers were dying. Looking around our greater landscape - seeing the contractions and layoffs affecting communities across this nation, by that reasoning nearly every service producer in the marketplace that suffers under the weight of financial and technical strain should be shut down.
. Indeed the newspaper business is changing. As is the business marketplace, and what adaptations employees, and employers, have had to make to stay competitive at work, or in business, throughout our land as well as in others, speak to the need for innovation, not for giving up. While the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has gone "underground", existing online only, it fights to be relevant in the new media environment.
. But so does their sister paper, the locally-owned Seattle Times whose fight to innovate and increase relevance has led the paper's design to take on a distinctly modern look. This applies to the look and feel of the paper in your hands, as well as to the online tools and gadgets employed.
. For example, the stylistic direction the printed PI was taking - local features with hot-button stories alongside important national and breaking local news, are now embellished and illustrated with modern media approaches. Online video, interactive blogs and online chats with newsmakers are now found in every section where once was only text.
. This speaks to the direction the Polaris should take in remaining relevant and involved in our North community. That community includes its students, but also its faculty and administrative staff. That community includes its neighborhood from Golden Gardens Park, across Thornton Creek and Licton Springs, to the shores of Lake Washington - and yes, from Shoreline to the north and downtown to the south. We have interested partners who have a stake in the experience here at North.
. Each department that weighs in may point to their own communication instruments - from web logs to conventional public relations through the school's Office of Public Information. But would you accept a society where only its incorporated stakeholders can dictate what you will hear? Or do you value having an independent, interested platform to help interpret the marketplace of ideas and offerings by ensuring the free and unfettered flow of information and the chance to be challenged to think through their approach to the news, as well as your own?
. Throw in with your two cents before the opportunity of the paper is gone. It may not seem like much - but it counts.
. The Student Center controversy also speaks to the value of the Polaris. Could SAC have pointed to student-run articles, and administrative, faculty and SAC-written pieces in the Polaris to back up their claims? Perhaps.
. But having a paper to vet, and be vetted, is a two-way street that needs administrative support. Getting this paper out is a physical, psychological and intellectual act of will - as many of our volunteer staff will attest. We call for support from the student body and other community stakeholders, who need and deserve a vital North community.
. Let the student committees of SAC know how important this elemental piece of student academic and social life is to each of you, and to future generations that the Polaris is an in-extricable part and parcel of the education offered here.
. To let the student government know you feel having a school newspaper is vital, contact Sabina Tomkins, the Service and Activities Fee Board chair, at to vote to fund the Polaris.
As always, let us know what you think by emailing the editors at

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