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"Two student governments disbanded by campus administrators are operating again this fall"
Ben Gose
The Chronicle of Higher Education
October 11, 1996


Officials at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa abolished the Student Government Association in 1993 after violence marred the election process. One of the candidates for president that year was beaten at her home and had a burning cross placed in her yard.

Although no organization was officially blamed for the incidents, the woman had been running against a candidate supported by a clandestine group known as "The Machine," which had controlled the student government for years. The group is said to be composed primarily of members of the university's predominantly white fraternities and sororities.

Before this year's elections, students adopted a new constitution, under which each student can vote for only one candidate for each office, rather than one for each open seat. Under the old rules, if there were eight senate seats open, for example, students could vote for eight candidates.

Harry J. Knopke, the university's vice-president for student affairs, says the old system allowed control of the student government by those voting in blocs.

But even without bloc voting, some students say The Machine has enough influence over fraternity and sorority members to continue to dominate the student government. Scott Powell, a senior who opposes the group, says many pledges are told they will be fined if they vote against a candidate supported by The Machine. Jessica Medeiros, who had that support, is the new student-government president. She could not be reached for comment.

As part of an effort to weaken the power of The Machine, Mr. Powell started a group last spring called JUSTICE (Joining University Students Together in Cooperative Effort). Its goals are to get more non-Greek students to vote, and to convince fraternity and sorority members that "just because candidates are endorsed by The Machine does not mean that they're the most qualified," he says.