In summer of 2008, I walked into my first Senate meeting. Fresh out of high school, I thought I had found a good place to get involved. What I found instead was a disaster.
I entered a room where I saw a huge majority repeatedly ignore logic and common sense. In the years since, Student Government has wasted thousands of dollars of our money, and at every opportunity, the majority party sided with the administration - not with the average student.
The problem with SG is not the massive difference between majority and minority size, and it's not that the two parties can't "work together." The problem is not an abstraction, it's an actual physical thing - "The System."
With a name like that, you probably think I've gone off the conspiracy theory deep end. But I didn't invent that moniker; they did. The System is a method of control, using patronage, biased rules and pure threats to get a few resume lines and SG salaries at the expense of every other UF student.
The patronage system run by the Unite Party is something that would make Rod Blagojevich jealous. Grouping student organizations into so-called "blocks," the system uses both carrot and stick to ensure members are brought in line for the purpose of getting votes for Unite. Organizations are told to guarantee the "cooperation" of their members, because refusing to participate in the effort has social consequences, in addition to the denial of positions in SG.
The Unite Party accomplishes this through the use of "voter boards," which allow organizations to keep track of which members voted and reward/punish them accordingly. This is why there is a unique rule in SG allowing only the Unite-appointed Supervisor of Elections to hand out stickers saying the magic words: "I Voted."
All of this was revealed in depth on last year's so-called "Unite Tapes," which, of course, the Alligator lacked the spine to adequately report on. Some choice words from the recording of Unite leaders: "...you guys had that incentive of getting your girls a bottle, not too many [groups] do that, that's awesome." Or, "I know you told your baby pledge class that they couldn't eat until they went and voted. That's amazing, that's what you need to do. So I applaud you all for doing that."
The Unite Party knows that just a few hundred people voting against them could wipe out their super-majority. That's why every year they pay lip service to increasing voter turnout, but every year they vote against the legislation that would actually do it. Instead, they've rammed through election "laws" designed with one thing in mind: limit the number of voters to the 18 percent who do now, while making it increasingly difficult for the opposition to campaign.
They do this because they are afraid of losing their power, which is exactly why they comply with every request the administration has for them. After all, without a real minority party, the administration is the only group left that can stop them. Whether it's the University Police incident last year, the new Reitz Union fee proposal, or most recently, a massive tuition increase not covered by Bright Futures, the Unite Party sided with the administration and not with students. The system isn't only spending students' money; they are claiming to speak for students while working against us again and again.
All in all, this System-Administration love fest has worked out great for the Unite Party. When emails were leaked in 2008 revealing that senate seats were given away by organizational affiliation, the Student Body President was given a "stern talking to" by administrators. When more emails surfaced revealing that applicants to the supposedly nonpartisan Elections Commission were told to hide their Unite Party affiliation, the administration told me they were "working on it." Finally, when a member of The System leaked an unedited tape of one of their own meetings, which described in-depth and in their own words the patronage and corruption that currently has a choke hold on student government at UF, administrators told me they had spoken with the people on the tapes and that "there was nothing else to be done." One of the people on the tapes is now Student Body Treasurer.
Changing their name every few years to prevent you from catching on - they need to win it all - because they've already promised it all away.
Let me be absolutely clear: I reject the Progress Party's idea that we can work with these people. Their policies are not the problem; their corruption is. And until there is an opposition party that will truly fight to end The System and give Student Government back to the students, these people will control millions of dollars of student money and will continue to speak on behalf of people they don't represent.
But it's easy to be apathetic. It's easy to not vote. And yes, it's easy for you, Alligator, to refuse to report on these facts and claim you're afraid of lawsuits. It may be easy, but it isn't right.
Jonathan Ossip is the former minority leader of the UF Student Senate.