After a politically tumultuous beginning to the new academic year, the Student Government (S.G.) College Council (C.C.) hopes to rebound with the introduction of several new initiatives aimed at increasing the visibility and accountability of the student leaders on campus.
“This year is going to be an exciting year for College Council,” said second-year Ben Esparza, the new chair of the Council. “Almost everyone on the Council is new this year and there is a lot of energy and momentum to get projects done.”
Esparza narrowly edged out fourth-year S.G. veteran Dan Kimerling by an 8–7 margin in the election for chair earlier this month. The contest saw some of the divisive issues that plagued the council last year revisited.
The Council comprises the top four vote-getters from each class year in the College, with the chair, who serves as the nonvoting leader of the group, selected internally. Under a constitutional amendment instated last year, the first runner-up in the chair’s class year would assume a seat on the council; the provision was ratified to assuage concerns that the chair’s class—which would have only three voting members after his election—would be underrepresented on the council.
In last spring’s election, Kyle Lee, a controversial figure who drew substantial criticism for allegedly homophobic comments he made in an e-mail exchange with fellow C.C. representative Ryan Kaminski, was the first runner-up in the election for the Class of 2007. Had Kimerling been elected by the Council to serve as chair last month, Lee stood to regain his seat on the council; instead, second-year Rob Reavis, Esparza’s runner-up, will take the seat. According to both Lee and current members on the council, efforts to prevent him from returning weighed on the discussion surrounding the Chair’s election.
“Their argument, as it was explained to me by a trusted source who was there, was that despite Ben’s lack of experience and relative novelty to Student Government, he should be elected so as to not give me the opportunity to fill the vacant 4th year seat,” Lee said in an e-mail to the Maroon. “All this deeply saddens me, as Machiavellian politics were used to keep a more experienced and better choice away from the chair. I certainly would have liked to serve again, but the Council essentially said today, ‘Let’s elect Ben, even though he doesn’t have the same experience as Dan, to keep Kyle Lee from assuming a seat, a voice, and a vote.’”
Although C.C. members admitted that the possibility of Lee returning to the Council contributed to their decision-making process, many refuted the suggestion that it was the determining factor.
“The issue of Kyle Lee did come up, as did a host of other issues including leadership abilities, administration ties, and the ability to be a voice for reform,” fourth-year C.C. member Christian Brockman said in an e-mail interview. “At the end of the day, a majority of the Council believed that Ben E. had the best package and voted for him.”
Esparza downplayed the influence of Lee on the election and noted that in the election for interim chair over the summer, Esparza also prevailed over Kimerling.
“I knew going into the election that Kyle Lee might be a factor in some people’s decision, but I also know that people who did not want Kyle Lee back on College Council voted for Dan Kimerling,” Esparza said. “I never mentioned Kyle while I was running, I think that would have been cheap on my part… I think the biggest influence in the election was the first-year vote. They came into that meeting new to the Council and with little exposure to the issues and the candidates running so I think they voted more objectively and without any preconceived notions.”
For his part, Kimerling declined to comment directly on the election.
“As chair, my goals would have been to help each member of the council achieve his or her own goals,” Kimerling said. “As a member, my goals are to help improve the academic experience for students, and ensure that information technology works for students. Therefore, not being chair does change my priorities.”
As for the actual issue of governance, the new council members hope that they will be able to put the politicking that has come to define S.G. behind them, and further a number of ideas they hope will increase student access to University resources and administrators.
“We plan on using a new e-mail system to inform the student body of our conversations with the Administration, as well as to keep students up to date on what S.G. itself is doing,” Brockman said. “This is how we hope to not only increase communication with the student body, but also to increase student participation.”
Additionally, the council hopes to launch an inter-RSO communication program that would facilitate coordination between student groups across campus, and hold meetings with the student governments of other area colleges and universities.
“I’m a big believer in the idea that small changes can make a big difference,” Esparza said. “Projects like creating guides for students moving out of housing, sponsoring academic resource fairs, or, my favorite example—putting picnic tables on the quads.”