Op-Ed: SGA, political science programs encourage ambition over leadership

A judge's chair sits empty before a podium and gavel, presumably in the student government chamber

Len Duenas/The Cougar

Spiro Hoxha is a former senator under the 60th SGA administration and currently serves as the SGA-appointed representative on the Equity for Students with Disabilities Committee and Student Fees Advisory Committee.

Student Government Association elections are a mixed bag. They aim to create an atmosphere of leadership, service and work, but they also tend to operate as a laboratory for horrendous political ideologies. Rather than genuinely helping students, SGA candidates use the elections as testing grounds for the theory they learn in class.

For an example, consider the events of the most recent election, in which former president Joshua Martin was ousted by the current president, Benjamin Rizk.

During that election alone, Martin changed the election codes under the cover of darkness, loaded the Supreme Court with people that would rule in his favor and allegedly offered cabinet positions to local student leaders in exchange for endorsements from their organizations.

As drama surrounding the election played out, Martin violated the election code by hiring a UT lawyer to represent him, spent thousands of dollars to try to turn the tides in his favor and eventually was able to overturn the presidential election.

Even if Martin was eventually voted out, the fact that all of the above was able to happen in the first place points to a problem at the very core of how student government elections are run.

Many students think of SGA elections as dumb and pointless. They are dumb and pointless, except when they’re not. As a student body, SGA gives students an avenue towards actual power, something that can be used for good or evil.

Some student leaders are placed in positions that give them access to millions of dollars in student funding. Being an elected leader allows you to influence University administration even as high up as Chancellor Renu Khator. With all this in mind, shouldn’t students try to keep amoral monsters out of these positions?

Beyond their power within UH, SGA leadership positions frequently provide a route to power at higher levels of government. SGA leaders can take their experience and use it to fuel getting internships, policy advisor positions and even potential bids for Congress. 

This issue isn’t just rooted in SGA, however. It goes all the way to the core of how political science departments across the country operate. Political science courses teach one central concept: How to win by any means necessary. 

While this idea might seem ambitious on the surface, it tends to create antisocial monsters who idealize figures like Richard Nixon or Donald Trump. Many people reading this article likely know a couple people in their political science classes that ramble about how “might makes right” but can’t be bothered to shower.

Our political science departments impact our politics because the way in which we socialize political science students informs how they act within the greater world of politics. In other words, demonic fascist college students become demonic fascist adults with no values.

 Isaiah Martin is an excellent example. He lost his bid for student body president when he attended UH several years back, but he remained deeply involved with student government well after he graduated. Despite no longer attending the university, Martin seems to have maintained a keen interest in its elections.

Outside of his alleged involvement in his younger brother Joshua Martin’s attempt at a second turn, Isaiah recently announced that he throwing his own hat into the ring; he was going to run for Texas Congress. Shortly after this, Martin was soundly criticized for “not reflecting the values of his generation.” 

Amongst the criticisms levied at him included what some saw as a weak stance on healthcare; endorsing a public option amidst a generational push for Medicare for all. Martin was also critiqued for his staunchly pro-Israel stance, something that proved unpopular especially amidst large protests in support of Palestine.

Martin didn’t even have an issues page on his website until local media outlets criticized him into putting one together. But at the end of the day, Martin doesn’t care about his issues page. Like a good graduate of the University’s political science program, he wants to win at any cost.

With the political connections and donors Martin has picked up over the years, some of whom he likely gained through his time at UH, he seems to be counting on coasting into a Congressional seat regardless of public support.

So how do we prevent the University from churning out more morally weak politicians who don’t care about change? Well, we should start by interrupting the problem at its source.

While it’s true that many students who major in political science hold ambitions toward power well before they enter college, our current political science class setup encourages these tendencies. To counter these tendencies, we should consider promoting ideas that stand in firm opposition to this lust for power.

Morality and genuinely held beliefs should be at the forefront of political socialization – not navigating institutions for personal enrichment and bragging rights. It’s only by shifting the focus of our political science education that we can stop these power-hungry monsters from gaining power.

Students can help with this by staying informed and staying aware. Candidates like Martin are able to get away with a lot more if no one pays attention to what they’re up to. If we work together, we can keep these walking PR campaigns out of office and maybe, just maybe, achieve some real change for once.

Spiro Hoxha is a political science junior who can be reached at
[email protected]

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