In real life, power in United States schools is in the hands of the principal and faculty and the school district; and, of course, these are subordinate to the power of state and federal courts. In England and Wales it lies with the Headteacher, the Board of Governors and the Local Education Authority. Other jurisdictions, including Scotland, may have their own arrangements. To create the illusion of students having power over their lives at school, student councils are forged. In truth, these groups are largely figurehead posts: the only real power they have is superficial, and the only benefit is a student council slot on your college application under "extracurricular activities" and an extra picture in the yearbook.
In fiction, student council is Serious Business, with power worthy of corruption and abuse in the hands of those with evil in their hearts. Students have unparalleled freedom — they do as they please on campus, invent arbitrary rules that punish the masses and give themselves and their allies special privileges. No member of the staff dare rebuke them. In fact, the staff may rarely appear at all (see Two-Teacher School). Occasionally, their power will be checked by others, such as the School Newspaper Newshound. In the event that the student council is not corrupt and seeks to use their powers for good rather than evil, their rival will be the actual school administration, who will often butt heads with the council over the administration's own corruption/tyranny.
One thing that may or may not overlap with this trope is how the Yearbook Committee seems to have supreme power over the yearbook, despite the fact that in Real Life schools, administration would step in so that the student(s) that is in danger of being hurt by the pictures would be out of harm's way.
Naturally, led by the Student Council President. If the student council is not only powerful, but more powerful than the adults, then they have a Teenage Wasteland.
Note that in Japan, this is an exaggeration of Truth in Television, as the Student Councils actually do have power over the approval and funding of student clubs. School Clubs Are Serious Business, as they're meant to prepare students for the high-pressure work environment into which they'll eventually be dumped, and students are strongly encouraged to join at least one. And just like in their future jobs, students are expected to show utmost loyalty to their club: once you join, you're there for life. Likewise, in private schools in the United Kingdom, prefect councils often perform the same functions that an honor (honour?) council fulfills at a university, and a class's prefects are assigned to keep order in the teacher's absence. Are you starting to see the clout Student Council can hold?
In terms of rank, about the only authority trope arguably as low as this is the Landlord. For the other lower steps, see Club President and Class Representative. For the enforcers, see Yellow Sash of Power. For the next step up, see Student Council President.
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Anime and Manga
In Girls und Panzer, the student council not only control the schools' funding, but negotiate on an equal level with the national education authorities and can threaten to expel our heroine, Miho, for not taking up tankery as her elective. In the spin-off manga Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu, it is even revealed they get to decide where the massive school-ship Ooari Girls' Academy floats on gets to go. They sail southwards for Christmas.
In Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon aside from mundane school-related tasks, each country's student council also is responsible for the government and military.
In Sket Dance, the student council executives are made to be celebrities, and their respective quirks are often played for laughs. Although they have the obligatory power to manage and maintain the order among the different school clubs, they're just as prone to campus hijinks as the Sket Dan.
Aagata Soujiro, the President, would often be seen slacking off in the student council room, and is viewed as a complete slacker by outsiders. He's also quite notorious for missing his meetings and for letting his right-hand man, Tsubaki Sasuke, take charge of running the whole student council, just because he thinks it's too much trouble doing it himself... However, looks can be deceiving: underneath the friendly face is a Manipulative Bastard and beats out Bossun as a Chessmaster.
Taken to its logical extreme in Shattered Angels where the post apocalyptic scholastic city of Academia is ruled by an iron fisted student council. Along with the power to imprison and use capital punishment, they have an inquisition-like force (which consists largely of exported characters) of secret police.
Hana Yori Dango consists of 4 self-proclaimed gods of the school: Tsukasa, Rui, akira and Soujirou. They pay off the school to allow them to get away with ANYTHING, including publicly humiliating students they don't like. In fact, the whole plot was kicked off when the Naïve Newcomer Tsukushi refused to take their crap, kicked the fuck outta Tsukasa, and got him to be attracted to her for that.
In Revolutionary Girl Utena, the members of the Student Council have a private lift to their secret garden terrace where they debate the form the apocalypse will take based on the letters they all receive from The End Of The World. They are never seen to discuss uniforms or hall passes.
Actually, the treasurer of the Council, Juri, was briefly seen in one episode talking with a teacher about Student Council-y stuff. By the way, the teacher seemed terrified of her.
In an odd pass, neither the school nor the Council itself ever thinks to hold "elections" for a new Vice-President and no one ever blinks for a second when Nanami declares herself President in her brother's place.
The Utena Sega Saturn game pumps up the absurdity, by revealing that the only reason the council members have their places at all are because they're the most popular and "prince-like" students in the school. Their jobs on the council are arbitrarily assigned based on their age. Mikki is genuinely shocked at the revelation; Juri just gets pissed.
Despite the "Order of Glittering Crux" in Star Driver is not a student council per se, its main leaders include students with extra responsibilities like a class rep, the art club president, the rich student/sponsor and the student dorms manager.
The student council in Mai-HiME essentially polices itself, with its actual headmaster being little more than a figurehead. The vice-president Reito Kanzaki is the host body of the Big Bad and the president Shizuru Fujino is one of the super-powered HiME, and most of their on-screen council duties are limited to organizing school festivals (wherein plot-related stuff happens), leaving the disciplinary work to its most Hot-Blooded member while they sit back, relax and drink tea.
When Shizuru leaves the job, it becomes apparent that her laissez-faire attitude and sweet-natured diplomacy, combined with Haruka Suzushiro's boundless energy, kept the school running. Haruka can't do the job without her; though part of this is the job getting a lot harder after the school got half-destroyed in the HiME battles, she complains that Shizuru could have things sorted out if she was there.
Clamp School Detectives; this series has absurdly powerful student councils for each grade division, leading to (say) the chairman of the Elementary Division Council (Nokoru) consulting with the chairlady of the Kindergarten Division Council (Utako) over plans for festivals that shut down all actual schoolwork through to the University level for weeks.
Best Student Council: This is the premise of the show. The eponymous student council has military, law enforcement, and intelligence/ninja divisions, and is hand-picked by its president, Jinguuji Kanade, for reasons that she mostly keeps to herself. President Kanade believes in not restricting the freedom of the students, which limits the near-absolute control the council could otherwise exert.
Part of the island split to reveal a missle silo aimed at a nuclear aircraft carrier in episode two just because a guy on the carrier annoyed the president.
Another example of the student council using their absolute powers for good is Gakuen Sousei Nekoten, where its members join forces with their cat familiars to fight the minions of an Eldritch Abomination to prevent it from being released and sparing mankind from its ancient wrath.
In the manga Hana-Kimi, the student heads of the three school dormitories have the combined power to veto a school authority's decision. They are also fully responsible for the conduct of their juniors and fellow classmates of the respective dormitories that they are in charge of.
Kujibiki Unbalance, in which the entire premise of the show consists of a group of students trying to become this, by either competing against a bunch of other teams (in the original fake TV series/real OVA) or just training (in the real TV series).
The series takes the absurdity to new levels; the student council is not only more powerful than the faculty, it's more powerful than the government.
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu has this handwaved when a teacher goes to the principal because he thinks the student council is getting too much authority, and she decides not to interfere—not because she's afraid of them (as would be typical of this trope) but simply because she doesn't want the students to feel inadequate and, well, like a real student council.
Strawberry Panic! takes this one and runs with it: the setting involves a complex three-schools-in-one situation, and the student councils and their goings-on are given a great deal of ceremony, and the members are treated like royalty, with just getting to see the Etoile (the one who is above the three Student Council Presidents) up close being a longtime dream of many students. When power struggles happen, it is Not Pretty, in a way that's much darker than the show's usual lighthearted tone.
Oniisama e... has the Sorority, a group of girls from rich and powerful families who are seen as the best of the best and have lots of privileges, alongside bieng adored by the students. The main conflict begins when a girl from a middle-class background, the protagonist Nanako Misonoo, is somehow chosen to be a member of it, eliciting the anger and envy of many others.
Parodied in Karin with the three student council presidents of Ren's boarding school.
The student councils in Tenjou Tenge and the very similar Dragon Destiny are at war with one another, and are so powerful they can even rape or kill students without repercussion (except revenge killings).
Subverted in Haunted Junction, in which the Student Council President can summon and command the school principal (who is a ghost) via a magic amulet... but is kept so busy with ghost-hunting in general that he has no time to attend classes or interact with the other students at all, much less wield authority over them.
In Code Geass, Ashford Academy is owned by a former noble family that built the first Humongous Mecha, and the youngest daughter is the Student Council President; this means that the average students are subject to her playful whims like Complete Silence Parties and the Crossdressing Festival. And this all is before we get into the School Festival where they use a decommissioned mecha to try and make the world's largest pizza.
HeartCatch Pretty Cure! also plays with this. In the episode that introduces Itsuki, Tsubomi and Erika attempt to get their Fashion Club list in, only to confront the Council (depicted in the shadows and wearing Scary Shiny Glasses) who ominously tell them they were too late as Itsuki, the Student Council President, had left early. Erika doesn't give up so easily and she and Tsubomi confront Itsuki at her home... and find out Itsuki's a pretty nice guy... er, girl.
Another episode has a guy Itsuki handpicked to replace her after she decides to dedicate more time being a Precure think this way, believing that he'll have everyone swarming over him like they were with Itsuki. When Itsuki finds out, she lays him out over his selfish thinking.
Shugo Chara!: The student council have their own private garden and tearoom which other students need an invitation to get into, and are apparently exempt from the dress code.
Yuki's faction sees it coming and sends in Kimidori to keep things in check. Thus, when the President tries to cause trouble for the SOS Brigade (and overdoes it), the only thing stopping a furious Nagato from killing him is Kimidori's silent reassurance.
Inverted in Medabots — the show's Student Council are stereotypical nerds who are hopeless at Medabot battling and lose their meeting room to the school bullies in the first episode.
Justified in Infinite Ryvius: all of the adults die early on, so the Zwei elite class decides to take on the leadership role.
In Chrome Shelled Regios the Student Council President is explicitly in charge of the city. Considering that includes its military for fighting giant monsters as well as other cities, that's a pretty big responsibility. He can effectively force students to change their majors if he decides it's in the city's best interest.
The one-shot yaoi manga Bondage is about this. A male student constantly breaks the school rules about smoking and fighting, and is... punished for it every time by the two (male) student council members.
In the manga Medaka Box, the student council goes Up to Eleven on the scale. Powerful, capable of defeating any number of delinquents without effort, trained in ridiculously high levels of martial arts, and seemingly impervious to any school authority for taking whatever actions are deemed necessary to carry out helping students with their requests. All the more amusing that in this case, the student council is one girl, the eponymous Medaka, whose standards are so high that after being elected Student Council President, she wears all the armbands of the entire student council herself to signify she's the only one capable of doing their jobs to her satisfaction (until she eventually gives one to her childhood best friend).
In Fruits Basket, Yuki ends up becoming the student council president. The council doesn't seem to be especially powerful, though they seem to be a large part of the preparations for at least one school festival. Rather, the student council seems to be more of a gathering of most of the people least suited to be a part of the group.
This is lampshaded several times by the author, usually by way of Kakeru, who continually views the council as some Super Sentai-esque superhero team and spreads word around the school that the council will do all sorts of things for events which they don't have the power to do (the last one causes Yuki no end of trouble, leading him to cheerfully strangle Kakeru while saying "So it was you, you bastard!").
In the anime Happy Seven, the student council president happens to be the Big Bad's henchman.
In Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, the Disciplinary Committee president, Kyoya Hibari, has everyone in the school afraid of him; no one does anything even when he harms the other students. He has the director of the local hospital under his fingers and is the most feared deliquent group in their town AND can get rid of dead bodies, no questions asked.
The reason for Hibari's considerable influence becomes clear by the Varia Arc — he is quite simply one of the deadliest people on the planet and resisting his will immediately puts one in severe physical danger.
The student council in Midori Days spends several chapters hiring the most elite fighters of Japan in order to make the protagonist a fearless fighter again... so that he would become the class president the next year. Not only do the fights not work, but Seiji plain out doesn't care.
A wonder, or rather the male member staying behind ridiculous hours to get through all the paperwork that doesn't otherwise get done.
Hayate X Blade: The Council consists of the school's best Sword Bearers, who decide what exactly goes on within the school; Student Council President Hitsugi can do almost anything she wants, including the spontaneous creation of rules, for reasons not much more complicated than her own amusement.
In Asura Cryin', the student council can give an authorization to kill. Can't get much more powerful than that.
Definitely the case of the high school on Dance in the Vampire Bund as Mina was the one who founded the school and takes it over. Much to the anger of the current student council president.
Also fairly well justified, as Mina founded the school with very controversial plans for it. This way, instead of having to deal with continual resistance from the student body, clubs and student council, parents, teachers, the school board, news services and the general public, she only has to deal with a student council used to suppressing all the other groups and which already consists of the strongest-minded and most politically active students. They'd have been manageable even without the way things turned out.
Turned on its head with Angel Beats!. Since the show is set to an equivalent of Purgatory, the Student Council represents subordinates of the Creator of said world. One of the female lead actually forms a rival organization to battle said student council. The catch? Besides the Student Council President, most of the members of the Student Council are non-humans (referred to as NPCs, placeholders of human beings who are mostly completely apathetic and oblivious to whatever zaniness occurs near them). Also, since they are simply dedicated to preserve order (which the rival organization always try to subvert), they don't do much around the school.
The Fraternity of the Farm in Moyashimon has some elements of this, especially in the live-action adaptation. They certainly have the run of the school during the Spring Festival story arc.
The Public Safety Commission from Rosario + Vampire are the only ones allowed to use their monster powers on school grounds, which they abuse. They've even got their own dungeon for imprisoning the "unruly". They personally take it upon themselves to execute any human who discovers the school. They can also interrupt an instructor's class, round up and arrest students, tie their hands, and march them out, with the instructor powerless to stop them. Of course, it's heavily implied that they only got so bad under the leadership of Kuyou, an anti-humanextremist who also happened to be The Mole for Fairy Tale at the time, and that things improved after Tsukune and his Unwanted Harem defeat Kuyou.
In Maid-Sama!, the Seika student council isn't really all that different from any 'normal' anime student council, but the Miyabigaoka (insanely rich kid school very similar to Ouran but played straight) student council can prosecute other students from other schools for punching a chess club member.
Somehow the school council in Ai Ore! Love Me! can keep a student held hostage, in a cage too, until the local male school gets a better reputation.
While the student council at Sakuragaoka seems to have normal levels of power, the perception is certainly referred to:
In the anime, when it's discovered that the Light Music Club isn't officially recognized, Ritsu thinks it's a sinister plot to drive weak clubs into being disbanded. Ritsu forgot to fill out and send in a club activities application form, being distracted by Tsumugi's cake.
In one chapter of the manga, we learn that Nodoka is to be the next Student Council President. The post-chapter sketches have Yamanaka-sensei asking her for a raise, and the principal asks for a part in the series.
When Nodoka and all the older LMC members are in the same class for third year, Ritsu suspects Nodoka of pulling strings. It was Yamanaka-sensei.
When the LMC discovers that the student council's room has an air conditioner while they don't, they think it's an abuse of power. Any club that applies for it can have one installed. She said so at a club presidents' meeting... that Ritsu forgot to attend.
In Beelzebub, St. Ishiyama Academy has the Six Knights, who use to have absolute authority over the student body, even over the actual student council. At Ishiyama High, there is no "official" student council. Instead, the "council" is the Tohoshinki, the four strongest delinquents of the entire school. Oga later on became the "Student Council President" when he defeated all four, making him the strongest delinquent at Ishiyama High.
Taken to absolutely preposterous levels in Koi To Senkyo To Chocolate, as the elected student officials have control over tens of billions of yen, make political war with each other, have "S-Agents" (spies) planted throughout the school, and even go so far as to directly attack or even try to eliminate students who oppose their will on occasion.
Nerawareta Gakuen's student council seems to have more power than the teachers. They are able to make a rule that allows them to suspend students from bringing phones to school and it's suggested that they can use this against teachers as well.
Parodied in the hentai Discipline - The Hentai Academy. In which the student council has connections with very powerful people, and have their own private army which has access to tanks, helicopters, jets, and giant mechas.
Tantei Opera Milky Holmes takes this trope to its logical extreme. Henriette Mystere is not just the student council president, she's the only real authority figure at the school. If there's a principal or even other student council members, we've never seen them.
Subverted in Seitokai Yakuindomonote literally meaning "Student Council Members". While the beginning — with quirky, ridiculously talented girls forcing a mostly normal guy into their ranks — seems like a setup for this, all of the student council tasks that are shown are relatively mundane. It even shows them dealing with a non-exaggerated amount of everyday paperwork.
Kill la Killexaggerates this to hell and back; Honnouji's student council has created a straight up fascist state and has the power to annex other schools and execute students. As crazy as this sounds, it is slightly justified by the fact that the school is owned by the incredibly wealthy and powerful Kiryuin family, with daughter Satsuki at the head of the student council. Said family also has extensive access to Life Fibers, which they use to create superpowered uniforms, which they use to control the student body and the faculty. Satsuki herself has a sword that can defeat said uniforms by itself, and a special uniform, called a Kamui, which is far more powerful than the rest, matched only by the protagonist's own Kamui and a special sword of her own.
The student council in Hyakko take care of a lot of policies as the administration takes more of a "hands-off" approach.
In Walkure Romanze, after Mio is issued a duel challenge by Bertille, she tries to protest that she isn't even training to be a knight. However, the student council says that a knight's honor is on the line anytime they do something like this, and allows this duel on the grounds of it being a training session. The only alternative is to quit the school, but Mio refuses that option, since it wouldn't allow her to be close to Takahiro, a guy she likes, so she reluctantly agrees to the duel...
The Underground Student Council in Prison School maintains a fully functional jail on the school property and goes to extreme lengths to expel the boys. They are later eposes and sent to jail themselves, whereupon the Aboveground Student Council takes their place.
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is a classical example. An important element in the story's first part is Miyamura, Odagiri and Tamaki's race to become the new student council president because the president has ultimate power over the school and no-one can refuse his orders. Other than the power the student council has on the school, they are even able to extend their power beyond the school - for example, they forbid anyone who is not a member of the council to visit Asuka's house, and Asuka's mother actually complies with it.
Another Country runs on this trope, but on the not-unjustified premise of the power that prefects had in early 20th-Century British boarding schools.
Revenge of the Nerds, where the Greek Council has more power than city authority, and the police have no jurisdiction against "college pranks," even if they involve crimes of assault, vandalism and rape; the only way for the nerds to get justice is to win the Greek Homecoming Festival.
Revenge of the Nerds was filmed long after Animal House had their Greek Council decide that Delta House should have its charter revoked.
The whole plot of the 1999 movie Election is a subversion; the story itself makes it clear that the Student Council does not have that much power, and that the whole process is largely a waste of time that much of the student body couldn't care less about. But to Tracy, All Elections Are Serious Business.
In the feature film Pinch Runner (starring the J-Pop group "Morning Musume") a character fakes a suicide attempt in the girls' bathroom. She is "treated" in the school nurse's office by a classmate who is a sort of junior-trainee doctor, with the rest of the Track and Field Club in attendance. Despite the liters upon liters of fake blood splashed all over the bathroom, the nurse's office, and three different girls' uniforms — and all seven students apparently skip class for the rest of the school day — there is no indication that the adults at the two teacher school (or the girls' parents, for that matter) ever learn of the affair.
In Son of Interflux, Simon Irving, as student council treasurer, is able to use school funds to purchase land and, through various means, lead a surprisingly-effective student protest against the eponymous company.
In The Lottery by Beth Goobie the council uses threats, bullying, blackmail amongst other methods to maintain its absurd power.
Harry Potter: Prefects (a close equivalent to a student council) can give and take house points and give detention. Taken Up to Eleven in the fifth book with Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad, which has even more disciplinary powers, which could possibly include legal consequences.
And subverted with the Head Boy position, which seems to be largely honorific.
Subverted in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, when Jenny runs and wins (with Sabrina's help) for class president on a platform of real change, only to find out she could not fulfill any election promises after the election. She gives the position to Libby, who believes the premise.
Veronica Mars did an episode around the corrupt antics of Neptune High's student council. The council, run by the school's wealthiest students, conceived a policy called "Pirate Points" to allow the councilmen and their cronies on the various sports and cheer teams to have take-out food delivered to the school for them to eat, while forcing the rest of the students, and those in clubs that were not liked by the jocks and student council, to eat the crappy cafeteria food. To keep a rabble-rousing ex-cheerleader from getting elected student council president on a platform of her abolishing the Pirate Point program, Alpha Bitch Madison Sinclair schemed to get popular student Duncan Kane elected president, under the logic that Duncan would keep the Pirate Point program going since he was too spaced out to care either way about how controversial the program was. In the end, after realizing the reform candidate was a narc for the local police and probably wouldn't carry out her vow to abolish the program, Veronica was forced to switch candidates and shamed Duncan (via pointing out how much of a hand-puppet he had become for Madison) into taking up the cause. Rather than abolish the system, he opts to reform it into a more egalitarian program, expanding it to include all clubs and teams at school as well as all students on the honor roll.
In Degrassi, during the shooting episode, Jay says "When your girlfriend's student council vice president, nobody asks questions." Otherwise they limit the student council to what a student council would be involved in, raffle tickets and dances.
The Truth in Television version of this — the British-public-school student hierarchy — is parodied in the Ripping Yarns episode "Tomkinson's Schooldays" with the school bully, Grayson. "School Bully" is his official title; he's won a Bullying Cup and a "kick-in of fags," and parents send their sons to the school partly to be bullied by him. "Absurdly powerful" could not be a more apt description.
"In return for not hitting any of the masters, the Head had allowed Grayson certain privileges, such as having unmarried Filipino women in his room, smoking opium, and having a sauna instead of prayers."
The student council in The Hard Times of RJ Berger handles the entire student body's budget and uses the money to fund the athletic department's new uniforms and shoes while depriving other clubs of funds and tearing apart the drama club's sets and removing a wheelchair ramp and making scrap wood.
Subverted in Room 222, where a student-council member was critiqued for simply recommdending the school student council having the power to have input on a school's textbooks, or on removing a bad teacher in extreme cases.
In Awkward., there is the Asian mafia, led by Becca, that engage in elaborate Batman Gambits to eliminate anyone in their way. When Ming gets Becca suspended and inadvertently becomes the leader, we find out that the Asian mafia has an even more ridiculous amount of power than previously seen. Ming is given a phone with which she can call only one number, that will give her anything she asks for.
In Kid Nation, the entire city was run by children. Some of the children acted in accordance with this trope.
In Veritas the student council can organize death matches.
justified by the fact that the president is the leader of Heaven's Riches, (and therefore the most powerful person in the martial arts community) and there are no teachers at all.
Persona 3 has a student council president capable of covering up crimes, creating fake student profiles, and bossing teachers around. She also "executes" the male members of your party after an unfortunate incident involving a mix up of the times each gender was supposed to be allowed to use some hot springs. Said student council president's absurd power stems less from being Student Council President and more being the heiress of a Mega Corp. that funds the school.
Rival Schools and Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer are Fighting Games that both revolve around student councils that want to take over not just their school, but all of Japan. In the case of Rival Schools, this was a failed attempt at a Batman Gambit of one of the school's principals in order to create a new generation of politicians and civil workers to make a better future for Japan.
Not stated outright in Bully, but, considering the elaborate class presidential elections, and the extreme levels of power the Head Boy is implied to have, one has to wonder...
In Final Fantasy VIII, the Disciplinary Committee is a student-run committee in Balamb Garden that exists to enforce the Garden's rules among the students. Though perhaps it wasn't a good idea to allow Seifer and his "posse" to run it, as they use their power to bully and harass other students without fear of getting into trouble for it. It is also implied that they have some sort of "hit list" that even the school's instructors aren't safe from.
Zig-Zagged in High School Story. While you can have members of the student government, they themselves are not very powerful. You, on the other hand, seem to be the entire board of education condensed into one little teen.
In Robopon, while Bisco is a bully, he and his gang hold sway over Libra School's teachers and principal.
Subverted in Katawa Shoujo, in which Shizune and Misha are two members of the Student Council. The only members, unless Hisao joins them. As an example of their lack of power, while much work is pushed on to them for the School Festival, including management of budgets and the creation of most of the stalls, they lack the authoritative power to recruit help, or even make sure that everybody gets paperwork in. (Oh, and the president is deaf and mute. Makes it so easy talking with others.)
It's implied that in the past, the student council was even less effective, and Shizune was responsible for pushing for a more active student council. Shizune seems to attribute the problem to the student body, and expresses some concern over how effective her successors will be. Unfortunately, this ended up driving most of the other members off.
Taken to its logical extreme in Big Bang Age. The Student Union rules not a school but the entire country, enforcing order on the super-powered teenagers of Japan. Its the weakening of their authority that sets the stage for the main plot as factions start infighting.
Averted in RE: Alistair. When you ask Derek if he enjoys being on the student council, he admits that the student council is mostly decorative and that the school board makes most of the decisions.
Kanon, where the student council apparently has some say in whether or not students get expelled or not (in the 2006 anime, at least). In the original game, the signature of a student council member was needed to get the school board to revoke an expulsion, implying that the council had influence in such matters but did not actually have the authority to make such decisions on their own.
Another visual novel by Key, CLANNAD takes this up to eleven by having Tomoyo using the student council as authority in the city itself' to save the sakura trees that are important to her. (Especially ludicrous since that's NOT the only school in town, even if somehow the student body did have any voice) Her intentions are good and all, but the truth of the matter is that "Student Council president" does not give one a community voice.
El Goonish Shive has averted this; the duties of the student council so far seem to be announcing rules the principal made.
Played with in Snowflakes. The election was organized by the students, and no winner has been decided yet. It's also unclear as to how much power the winner would actually wield. It just gets really boring waiting around an orphanage all day.
US Patriot Act and American Eagle of PS238 treated the class president election as Serious Business, but once the election was over, it turned out that the faculty had no clue what the class president was supposed to do. So, despite the class president being the leader of a group of absurdly powerful students, the most significant thing said president has done in that role was preside over a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new computer lab.
The Flash series Xin is a good example of this trope in the last half of the series, the first half dealing with a completely anarchical school.
The schools we don't see in the first half are also implied to be like this. The subversion is that in Public High School 1368 the student captain, Legend, just does his own thing, while the regular students are absurdly powerful, getting away with decking teachers just because no one that cares can stop them. The second half of the series features the "Four Pillars" of Varron Academy, who function like this... but they're really just the school supervisor'spawns.
Survival of the Fittest V3's student council from Southridge High School. Whilst they don't, perhaps, reach the same extremes as some of the examples listed here, they're shown at least to have quite some actual power as regards to the running of the school. For example, one character joins the council in order to force the school to take action against the rampant sexual harassment going on (though in that character's case it was more her and her family threatening legal action than the position in the school council that got the school to act).
In Sailor Nothing, the Fashion Club has untold power over the student masses and their social status.
Seiki: Guys, it's just the Fashion Club. It's not like the Principal's passed an edict or anything.
Parodied in the short story Anime Story (which is an attempt to invoke as many anime tropes as possible). Takes a more sinister turn when it turns out the student president is the puppet of an Evil Overlord.
Magical Security Taskforce has Molly and her minion Claude. A quote from the prologue "The student council presidency at L. B. Gould High School in L. B. Gould, Ohio became a totalitarian autocracy so quickly that nobody was prepared to stop it. In fact, nobody quite knew what was happening when Molly Pearson swept into power." She never has anyone killed, but short of murder, the student council (aka Molly)can do whatever she wants.
Played with in Welcome to Night Vale: They have an Absurdly Powerful City Council instead. The Night Vale City Council is described as something akin to an Omniscient Council of Vagueness. Everything that occurs in Night Vale is in some way governed by the City Council. It is purported to have existed for nearly 200 years and forces townspeople to vote for them by taking them down into an abandoned mineshaft outside town, doing unknown things to them, and threatening torture and kidnapping of family members. The Council also plays a major role in directing the townspeople's attention away various (extremely obvious) supernatural occurrences, including a mysterious "Glow Cloud" seen hovering around town and raining dead animals, a bloody massacre at the local post office which was accompanied with sounds of "souls being ripped apart by black magic", and the frequent sightings of mysterious figures in black robes lurking around town.
Cecil (In reference to "angel" sightings): "The Council would like to remind you that you should not know anything about this. They only tell lies and they do not exist."
The PTA is apparently not immune from this either, hosting such functions as "a fundraiser for the 'Parents for a Blood Space War' committee. The money raised will go towards production of photon bombs and deployment of soldiers to the outer areas of the solar system." Their meetings are also known to erupt into bloody riots.
The trope is subverted in the obscure Peanuts television special, You're (Not) Elected, Charlie Brown, when Linus runs for class president (he's assumed to be in 2nd grade or so). He makes all sorts of outrageous promises and manages to win, but then meets with the principal and discovers he has no actual power whatsoever.
In one episode of Invader Zim, the president's job is to sing the school's praises and never say one single word against it... or else.
Parodied on Clone High: the most important decisions that the Student President made were the placement of rugs in the library.
X Middle School in Fillmore! has its own student-run police force that enforces all of the school rules and runs like a real world police force. They take it upon themselves to make sure their fellow classmates play nice. Though it's made clear on multiple occasions that they answer to the teachers, or at least the principal.
Subverted in The Simpsons episode "The President Wore Pearls". Upon being elected Student Council President, Lisa expects to have a say in the school's affairs. However, Chalmers and Skinner sidetrack her by turning her into a glamorous Eva Peron lookalike and tricking her into authorizing the elimination of music, art and gym. Doubly subverted when Lisa uses her moral authority to call a student strike, ultimately reversing the cuts. Chalmers ultimately explains to her that student government is meaningless, and their constitution is just written on the back of a placemat from some place called "Doodle's".
In Bromwell High, the student council president is given absolute power, even above that of the headmaster, though this is only discovered by digging through the school records. Lampshaded with a comment about naive optimism.
Natella (reading): We hope that future generations will benefit from our muddled and misguided idealism.
In Codename: Kids Next Door the student council president has his own office, can use powerful technology to force kids into school on snow days, and can declare war on other grades. They apparently can debate with the school board on a few issues as well. The safety patrol/hall monitors act like a police force, arresting students and keeping them in detention.
In The Fairly Oddparents, the Student Council President can cut in line (with a springboard to any student that doesn't let them), has his own bathroom stall and office, his own security detail, and apparently has important duties. This might be where the popular kids' bodyguard comes from as well.
Daria subverted this by rendering Lawndale's student council invisible save for its President, Ensemble Darkhorse Jodie Landon, who kept mentioning being in the student council whenever she appeared on screen.
The class treasurer election in Doug was such Serious Business that, for Doug, Skeeter donated old campaigning materials from his uncle Dan Freebird (his justification being having the same initials as "Doug Funnie"), and his opponent's father, the Mayor of Bluffington, used his own campaign for re-election to parade his son around. Unfortunately, this distracted the Mayor from his own election, causing him to lose on a landslide. And Dan Freebird was elected class treasurer.
Subverted in South Park when Cartman becomes a Glenn Beckexpy of a school announcement reader, he tries to turn the entire school against Student Council President Wendy. In the end, Wendy gets revenge upon Cartman by appointing him her replacement after resigning from Student Council, which effectively costs Cartman his job as announcement reader. Cartman's defeat is made worse when he discovers the lack of power the Student Council actually has and his replacement as announcement reader is now crucifying Cartman for not fixing any of the school's problems.
Parodied in American Dad!. After Steve is elected Student Council President, the first thing he does is to kick the principal out of his office by way of a school statute. The principal concedes that he's powerless to do anything; in fact, he's more happy that Steve's able to read.
Principal Lewis: The system works! (beat) ...I'll be back for my things.
While student positions in High School or below are generally powerless, student positions at Colleges are often far more influential. For example, the student trustee of many institutions will often have a full vote that is fully equal to those of the other school trustees. Also, many schools have student run boards set up to manage the portion of student fees used for student organizations. In large schools, this can easily lead to control of many thousands of dollars.
Most of the funds are either used for things like bringing in comedians, musicians, and films (to be enjoyed by students free of charge, since after all they've already paid for them), or are given away to campus clubs. Frequently, if a club bothers to ask and the amount isn't ludicrous, it's essentially a rubber-stamp decision (all officially recognized clubs generally have representation on the council, and if your club's representative gets a reputation for turning down requests, guess what will happen to his own club's requests).
Law schools typically have a "Student Bar Association" that acts this way.
There's also the H.B. Woodlawn Secondary Program, where the student body can participate in 'town meetings', which have power over almost every aspect of the school (the Principal, can, if necessary, override the TM) up to and including funding allocation for teachers, as well as clubs.
In the US Air Force, all airmen who graduate Basic Training have to go through Tech School, vocational training to learn the jobs they will be performing in the Air Force. Airmen in training and living in the dorms can volunteer (or be "volun-told") to become a "Rope" note So called because of the color-coded aiguillettes they wear on their uniforms - Green, Yellow, and Red, in order of seniority. They all answer to the sergeants who are responsible for maintaining discipline in the squadron, who wear Blue ropes., airmen who have been trained and given the power to enforce the rules over the other airmen. These guys are emulating the authority hierarchy that exists in the real military, and helping the sergeants manage the sometimes upwards of thousands of airmen in any given training squadron. They are able to report airmen to the sergeants for violating rules, and are often expected to take attendance and make sure everybody gets to where they are supposed to be. Some Ropes are apathetic as long as the airmen under them don't actively get them in trouble, others are regular Neidermeyers, quite a few actually are competent leaders if given a chance.
Even this is a subversion. What the squadron leadership says is what goes. A Rope who tries to maintain otherwise does so at his or her own peril.
In many Military Academies, in order to prepare cadets for their future careers, the students are given ranks parallel to their equivalents within the real military. First year students will often be cadet privates and fourth year students will be cadet officers. The cadets will be organized into battalions and companies under the command of upper class cadet officers. Many times these corps of cadets will be led by a "cadet colonel" or general. Actual commissioned officers have seniority over a cadet of any rank. Cadets do however outrank the enlisted personnel of the military in question.
The Honor Board that such institutions in the United States have conducts investigations into allegations of honor code violations (could be anything from cheating on a test to faking illness in order to avoid guard duty to knowing about an honor code violation and not reporting it). Typically, the Honor Board functions in the same manner as a court martial, with one Honor Board member serving as defense. If the cadets who are on the Honor Board find a cadet guilty of a violation of the honor code (typically something along the lines of "A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do."), a punishment gets recommended to the commandant (at least for upperclassmen, it's usually dismissal), who has the final say over it but rarely reduces the punishment.
The Virginia Military Institute has a "single-sanction" honor system, meaning that all violators of the honor code are dismissed. In fact, they are immediately led off of the premises after they are convicted, told that if they ever returned, the police would be called, and asked for an address in Lexington (the town where the Institute is located) for their possessions to be delivered to or an address somewhere else for their possessions to be shipped to along with a bill for the shipping. After that, in the middle of the night, the Corps of Cadets is woken up via a drum roll and told never to speak the name of the violator in the barracks again.
At the University of Colorado at Boulder, the student government handles a budget around $36.6 million dollars. It's been autonomous from Colorado's government since 1974. It has three branches of government and visits Washington, D.C. regularly to weigh in on decisions involving students in the United States. Officially, there are only a few students in each branch of government, but there are hundreds of students involved with some sort of student government at CU-Boulder. Absurdly powerful doesn't even start to describe it. Oh, and this isn't even mentioning the enormous collection of clubs, including the represented racial groups, foreign countries, and the huge GLBT and Gay Straight Alliance!
A lot of public universities have versions of this. A portion of student fees go the student government, and are under student control. Also typically the student center and school stores are owned by and managed by this(And anyone who has ever bought a text book can tell you this can be lucrative). Budgets in the 10s of million are quite common, as are trips to the state capitol and other places(and are the occasional reports of malfeasance) the amount the student body is aware and or cares of these activities- varies.
A report commissioned by the Supreme Court of India on the issue of student body electionsnote There was a lawsuit on whether limiting student elections is constitutional at all revealed, at least in colleges around Lucknow,
With elections approaching, student candidates in Lucknow, for example openly supported by national and regional political parties, extorted money and vehicles from businessmen, plastered the city with posters and subjected it to their violent and clamorous will. After elections, elected leaders extorted contracts from the university, particularly the works department, forced entry into all important university decisions and exacted protection money from government contractors. They also sported the latest cars, had their own gunmen and strode the university overawing and coercing college principals and university vice-chancellors to do their bidding. They did not stop at university authorities, but extorted money and goods from local merchants, ostensibly to “fund student activities”.
The report also wryly added student elections around India are violent, or banned because of violence.
Some British secondary schools have adopted a system in which the student council comprises of specially-selected sixth form students who make decisions on behalf of the entire sixth form. The staff are consulted and the school governors have some say, but the power split is aimed to be roughly 70/30.