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University Closes Student Government After Attack on Candidate

February 3, 1993 GMT

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ For decades, the way into student government at the University of Alabama has been the Machine, a shadowy collection of white fraternities and sororities highly effective at getting its people elected.

Few people have been able to overcome the power of the Machine, which has backed many student leaders who later made their mark in politics, including a number of congressmen.

Even a leader-to-be like George Wallace was no match for it. Wallace, the four-time governor and presidential candidate, ran for a student post in the 1930s without Machine backing and lost.


But after a non-Machine candidate for student president reported being beaten and slashed over the weekend and a cross was burned outside her house, administrators shut down the student government.

While school officials say there’s no proof the Machine is to blame and leaders of the coalition deny any role, administrators and many students say it’s time to start over.

″When the contests are marked by violence, that’s just a clear indication that something has to happen,″ said Harry Knopke, vice president for student affairs.

Minda Riley, a non-Machine candidate for president of the Student Government Association, reported that a man entered her home Sunday night, bruised her cheek, busted her lip, cut her face with a knife and told her she was allied with the wrong people.

Two months earlier, a cross was burned on the lawn of the white student’s off-campus house, and threatening notes with the phrase ″machine rules″ were put in her mailbox and on her door.

This week, the university suspended campus elections scheduled for next week.

″Reform of student government on this campus has my full support,″ school President Roger Sayers said Tuesday.

Miss Riley and her supporters met with Sayers on Tuesday and urged him to allow elections to go on as scheduled.

″Let me run, let me win and let me make some changes,″ Miss Riley said.

Sayers was not persuaded, however.

Knopke said that for several months, a number of people have made allegations of threats. Although some blame the Machine, a coalition of members of 27 fraternities and sororities, Knopke stopped short of that.

But, he said, ″There is an undercurrent involving the so-called Machine, and it will be discussed.″

The Machine-backed candidate for student president, Neil Duthie, said he had no part in the alleged attack and does not believe the Machine was responsible. ″I think it’s really horrible it happened,″ he said.

Miss Riley belongs to Phi Mu sorority, one of 48 Greek organizations at Alabama and one those that make up the Machine. But the Machine endorsed Duthie, a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

″It was an awful thing. Something definitely had to be done about Machine control,″ said Laura Smith, who is not in a sorority. ″Maybe we’ll see a difference in campus politics in the future.″

Marlon Trone, a member of a non-Machine fraternity, said the administration ″should have investigated the situation a long time ago, who’s in the SGA, the way it’s been run.″

Knopke said that while administrators and students discuss the makeup of the new student government, all SGA functions will be directed by the Office of Student Life, with help from a council of student organizations.

One goal will be getting more students involved in campus politics, Knopke said. Only about 15 percent of the more than 18,000 students have voted in recent elections, he said, and 41 of 78 SGA posts this year were either unopposed or had no candidates.

Miss Riley’s brother, Rob Riley, the Machine-backed SGA president in 1987, said he had no doubt that the Machine or a candidate backed by it was responsible for the attack.

″Today the Machine is a little club of thugs and cowards,″ he said. ″And I don’t blame my sister for not wanting to associate with this group.″