"SGA president at UA admits Machine ties" Birmingham News February 17, 2006
TUSCALOOSA University of Alabama student government President Mary Margaret Carroll said she decided to publicly acknowledge the existence of "the Machine," a secretive coalition of fraternities and sororities that is said to control student politics, in order to combat negative stereotypes that hamper the effectiveness of the SGA.
Though it has supposedly controlled the outcome of all but a few SGA elections since the late 1800s, the Machine's existence has generally been denied by members of the SGA and the Greek organizations that make it up. The Machine has been blamed for harassment and intimidation and other sinister political tactics. Carroll said that has been unfair.
"When it was named 'the Machine' it took on an identity all its own," Carroll said Thursday. "It's just friends helping friends getting elected. It's time that people realized that there is a lot of talk with no reason."
Carroll's revelation was reported in the student newspaper, The Crimson White. Carroll, a senior English and political science major from Ozark, spoke out at a campus discussion over whether to implement a proposed party system for SGA elections at UA.
Carroll said her decision was not the result of a decision by Greek leaders to make the Machine public. It was inspired by her experience as SGA president.
Entering office, she helped organize a task force on renovations to historic Foster Auditorium, the site of Gov. George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door protesting integration of the school. Carroll said she felt the diverse task force was unified and enthusiastic about renovation plans but, as time went on, detractors criticized the effort because of the SGA's involvement.
Throughout the year, Carroll observed how the SGA was distrusted because it was viewed as an extension of the Machine.
"That image barrier is a huge obstacle for us. I knew I was going to have to address it," Carroll said. The Crimson White reported that Carroll's statements mark the first time in at least 10 years anyone has acknowledged membership in the group. Machine members and its candidates typically deny the existence of the group or say they don't know anything about it. Carroll said she had been in the Machine and had worked in campaigns on its behalf. The Machine isn't really all that secretive, Carroll said in The Crimson White. It's just humble. Historically, Theta Nu Epsilon has been regarded as the Machine's official name. The organization began at the university in 1888, 25 years before student government started. Editors of The Crimson White dubbed Theta Nu "the Machine" in the 1920s because of its efficiency at getting its candidates into office. Carroll said SGA elections have become less about the individual and their qualifications and has focused too much on whether the candidate is a Machine or anti-Machine candidate. Carroll said she did not know if the Machine would start operating above-board. "I don't know what will happen in the future. The people from each house handle the situation differently," Carroll said. "I can see the benefit of becoming an above-ground organization but it doesn't do anything wrong to begin with." Carroll said she hadn't had any negative reaction since she made her remarks Wednesday. "It was a surprise to a lot of people," Carroll said. "I'm 100 percent sure that nothing but good can come out of this. Things are changing here."