All These Moments

All These Moments

Random ramblings in writing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The UT Student Government Controversy, or What Can You Do With An English Degree?

There has been quite a bit of controversy at UT about last week's Student Government election after an article ran by the Daily Texan revealed César Martinez Espinosa, then the Election Supervisory Board co-chairman, had emailed 21 members of a secretive organization called The Eyes of Texas to express his support for Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates Liam O’Rourke and Shara Kim Ma. This upset some people who objected to César's email because he is required to remain neutral as a supervisor of the elections.

So this is what went down: Student Government President Keshav Rajagopalan first told the Daily Texan on March 5 that César's resignation was an "overreaction" because the email he sent was not actually a violation of election code. Apparently it would only be considered bias if he invoked his title of Election Supervisor as he campaigned for Liam and Shara, under the logic that César-the-chairman and César-the-student are two separate people. (It's true. They have two separate Wikipedia articles, just like Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader.)

The big twist is that Keshav was also a member of The Eyes of Texas and was one of the 21 recipients of César's email on February 28. Keshav passed on the email to be checked for election-code violations on March 3, and it was cleared prior to his "overreaction" statement to the Daily Texan on March 5. Some are not content with César's resignation and feel that Keshav should resign as well. All this builds up to a climactic Student Government open mic forum on March 10. Zak Kinnaird showed up before the meeting in black robes telling people he would punish the traitors of his secret society over Gregorian chants playing out of a boombox. The editor of the Texas Travesty showed up in robes as well. All of the presidential candidates showed up along with candidates from other positions. And of course there were some highly eccentric, highly opinionated students present as well, who I assume were regulars. Despite the fact that the forum was a bit of a circus, there were a lot of people representing the "average UT student," but apparently that guy didn't brief them well because they disagreed on some issues. (Also, what kind of asshole gets multiple people to represent him at a meeting? One should be enough.) Facing this entire crowd sat UT Student Government President, Keshav Rajagopalan.

Keshav gave an opening speech explaining that he never read the email and was unaware of it until a copy was delivered to the Student Government office anonymously on March 3. This was when he passed on the email to be checked for election-code violations. He told us he became concerned because, even though the email had been exculpated, he felt that César's actions fell into an ethical grey area, and so he asked César to resign. The reason for his significant change in opinion of the resignation as an "overreaction" to an ethical obligation varies from a legitimate ethical epiphany, to cynical political maneuvering, or a revision of Wikipedia policy, according to who you ask. (Keshav, his critics, and me, respectively.) Keshav then described what sounded like recycled talking points about making Student Government more transparent and friendly to the average student. Then he opened up the mic for questions.

The questions became pretty intense, and it seemed to me that the controversy was just another excuse for some people to point out what they dislike about Student Government. Some people demanded that he share more information about The Eyes of Texas, saying that it was hypocritical for him to keep secrets for the organization while claiming to serve the student body of UT. Others questioned whether students should be given the responsibility of supervising the election at all. Some poignant criticism was leveled at the notion of transparency in Student Government, since Keshav never made information about César's email available and told the Daily Texan that he preferred the situation be handled without "broadcasting" the email to the student body. Keshav consistently responded to the last criticism by reiterating the story from his opening statement and describing what he has done in order to make Student Government more transparent. To be honest, none of this meant very much to me. I am of the opinion that Student Government is pretty much just a figurehead and doesn't really do anything of much significance. My motivation for coming to the meeting was for amusement.

My interest in the meeting changed as the questions continued, however, and I found myself compelled to approach the mic. Keshav was handling himself well, and seeing a politician—especially from Student Government—handle questions so well is never amusing. Hearing him respond to student questions like a broken record became obnoxious because there were some glaring problems with his story that no one was pursuing and I couldn't understand why. His claim that he knew nothing about the email until it was delivered to the Student Government office seemed like obvious bullshit to me.

I stepped up to the mic feeling bold and with full intention to turn the story around on this guy and make him look like a complete idiot, but of course once I got up to the mic I lost most of my sarcasm, left out the one-liners I had imagined, but still managed to pick apart his story pretty thoroughly. This is how I remember it going:

Jared: "I'm a bit curious about the timeline of when you received the email and when you turned it in."
Keshav: "Ok."
J: "Well, the Daily Texan reports—and the timestamp is shown in the article—that you received this email on February 28."
K: "Well, yes, but I never saw the email."
J: "Right. So how often do you think you miss an email?"
K: "Well I don't know, I get over 500 a day. I try to read what I can and respond, but I can't always."
J: "Sure, sure, I understand. I think we can all relate, right? People were complaining earlier about spam from some of the candidates, and I know everyone hates spam from random classmates looking for notes and homework. [There was mild laughter, I paused to look around and saw people nodding at this. UT students seriously hate those emails.] But this seems to be different to me, because I usually take the time to read what my friends send me. I don't know too much about you and César, but you appointed him so I assume you two are pretty good friends right?"
K: "Yes."
J: "So it just seems a bit more unusual to me that you would overlook an email from a friend, especially one that you also work with in Student Government."
K: "Yeah, well, like I said, I get a lot of email and sometimes I'm too busy. Like... I can't recall what I was doing this weekend when he sent that email, but I wasn't able to check it."
J: "Ok, but another thing that strikes me about this email is the subject line. I mean, even when I don't open an email I still see all the subjects in my inbox right? And the subject of César's email was, in all caps, 'IMPORTANT!' and then, 'Please help.' I know you don't read the contents of every email you receive, but I don't understand why you wouldn't open an email from a friend with such an urgent subject." [After this statement I hear some laughter from the crowd.]
K: "Yeah, I just never happened to see the email."
J: "So you never saw the email until the physical copy was delivered anonymously a few days later?"
K: "Right."
J: "That just seems strange to me. Personally I am the opposite. I would get email a lot sooner than actual mail."

This was when I planned on saying that his reliance on physical mail and befuddled handling of email reminded me more of my grandmother than a student at UT, but I didn't and instead finished with my questions and sat down. When I returned to my seat a few people told me that they thought I asked good questions, and a few more people told me the same thing after the forum was over. The forum continued for another hour with steadily increasing intensity, but that is of no concern to this article. Oh no, dear reader, this story is only for the sake of addressing a question every English major must answer every time an acquaintance discovers his or her major:

"What are you going to do with an English degree?"

Don't laugh, cover bands are awesome.
This question haunts the English major community so thoroughly that it is sometimes the topic of classroom discussion. "What exactly are we going to do with our degrees? Discuss." Even English professors joke that there is no such thing as a professional organization of English majors because we are a diasporadic group. This dispersal is not a sign of what little can be done with an English degree, but rather a sign of how many different things can be done with one.

How exactly does this relate to the Student Government controversy at UT? Because the skills of an English major are in use even when most people do not realize it. Although I went to the forum only for amusement, my mind—which UT has tuned to scrutinize language and rhetoric—would only focus on the glaring holes in the story that Keshav kept repeating. I did not approach the mic with any antagonism towards Keshav or contempt for how he was doing his job as Student Government President. I did not approach the mic because I felt belittled as an average student or duped as a voter. I did not approach the mic to opine about an emotional issue or present a logical point. I was driven to the mic because of the shadowy timeline and unconvincing behavior in the story Keshav was sharing. I approached the mic as an English major approaching a rhetoric assignment. I spotted and scrutinized the weakness of the narrative, I emphasized and put them on display to the forum, I successfully supported my observations, and for a few moment I made the Student Government President uneasy. This is what English majors can do with their degrees, and we can do it anywhere, and no one is safe. Not even fellow English majors. We like engaging one another, English majors are the most dangerous game.

We are in your movie, mentioning the book was better. We are in your music, critiquing the lyrics. We are in your politics, pointing out your rubbish. We are in your conversation, making you feel stupid. We are in your law, pwning your rules. What can we do with an English degree? Whatever the fuck we want!

Credit where credit is due. The featured comic is from Circumlocution, a comic in the Daily Texan "devoted to life at the University of Texas at Austin, among other things." The description of the forum is my own personal account. Any other information about the Student Government controversy is from the Daily Texan. Also, please don't analyze all the mistakes in this entry so you can brutally outline them and cause me give up on being an English major in despair, even though I am pretty much asking for it.


Blogger Risa said...

I think mom would have rather heard about what you're gonna do with that English degree than your rant on UT "student government." I read it to her and she's pretty proud to have "such a clever little boy."

Also...I've added you to my blog feed. It's a very select group ;)

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that keshav is ridiculous and you pointed it out. i like that you stuck it to the man! keep it up!

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first of all english majored from ut do not run the world. email was checked or not, does not matter. it is political issue, now depends which side you belong to.

12:00 PM  

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My name is Jared and I'm an English major at UT. Politically I'm a mix of libertarian and neocon with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Otherwise I'm just a typical nerd.

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