As The Record reported a few days ago, Student Government recently debated whether to disclose its budget to the rest of the student body. True to the traditions of Harvard Law, the august members of Student Government excogitated the pros and cons of disclosure. As far as I can tell, this was the gist of the debate:
For disclosure: Since we owe a debt of gratitude to our fellow students for, you know, voting to give us a line on our resume, we should probably at least tell them what we’re spending their money on.
Against disclosure: Not too many people have asked for the information, so why should we? Besides, people would unfairly criticize Student Government if they knew how Student Government spends its funds.
Does Student Government really need people to ask for such fundamental information about its activities? According to the Student Government’s own constitution, the mission of the organization is “to improve student life and facilitate communication between the students, faculty, and staff.”
Admittedly, I’m something of a textualist when it comes to statutory interpretation, but I would welcome an explanation from a Living Constitutionalist on how “facilitat[ing] communication” came to mean “getting off our duffs and telling people what we’re spending their money on if enough of them raise a fuss.” Of course, a judicial pragmatist might point out that we shouldn’t expect too much communication from an organization that hasn’t updated its blog in either four months or two years or depending on, er, which blog is actually theirs.
I didn’t agitate for a bushel of emails about Pub Night, but the archive folder of my downtrodden Gmail account can testify that Student Government has no reticence about initiating those communications. Why can’t the elders at Student Government show a little initiative and send us its budget without forcing us students to raise an army to storm their meeting first? I promise I will not consider it a solecism for Student Government to operate transparently even when the student body politic doesn’t demand it.
With the blatantly unconstitutional apathy excuse swatted aside, let’s talk about excuse number two. I realize that many HLS students think little of the ability of average U.S.citizens to do things like read a credit card agreement or make their own decisions on health insurance, but I didn’t realize that this kind of paternalistic arrogance extended to fellow students.
A message to Student Government: I’m probably the most tight-fisted killjoy at the Law Schooland even I won’t call for your resignation if you buy yourselves some Sprite Zero for your meetings. I realize that the majority of HLS students lean left politically and so this anti-budget sentiment might just be an expression of solidarity with the Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate, but let’s be serious for a moment. A member of a supposedly representative government who votes against disclosing that government’s budget to his constituents does not deserve even a sprat line on a resume.
I’m not asking for Student Government’s nuclear launch codes, the sordid details of HLS presidential elections, or proof that Simon Greenleaf was actually a clever pseudonym for Captain Planet. I just think that whenever you’re spending other people’s money, you owe it to them to tell them what you’re spending it on.
John Thorlin is a 3L. His column runs Thursdays.
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