February 25, 2011

One-candidate SG election raises visibility concerns

The lack of publicity of a recent College Council (CC) vacancy has drawn student criticism on the transparency and fairness of Student Government (SG)’s democratic process, which SG members say is largely out of their hands.

After fourth-year CC chair Jason Cigan took an unexpected leave of absence, Class of 2013 representative Neil Shah assumed his role, leaving Shah’s old position vacant. The empty seat left by Shah was filled by the only candidate to run: second-year Vicki Peng, who was on the ballot for the position during normal elections last year.

Although she wasn’t present the night of the emergency election, she submitted a platform, was questioned by College Council, and assumed her current position.

SG members and some students believe the primary reason Peng was the only candidate to run was a lack of publicity surrounding the election. The position’s vacancy was publicized by a January 6 newsletter regularly sent to RSO primary and secondary contacts by Assistant Director of Student Development Stacey Ergang.

RSO leaders are then expected to forward the information from ORCSA to other students, though the newsletters often don’t reach a large portion of the student body.

Second-year Samantha Lee complained about the lack of publicity, noting that she never got an email despite her leadership roles at the University. “I lead two RSOs and I never even got the memo that there was even a vacancy and I never saw any tabling and I’m at the Reynold’s Club all the time,” Lee said.

Even Peng agreed some competition would have been nice. “I think they could have pushed it off later but they already held the spot open for two weeks,” said Peng. “They could have publicized it more.”

When ORCSA’s regulations about mass emails stopped SG from notifying the whole campus, SG attempted to publicize the open positions by emailing the candidates who ran unsuccessfully in last year’s elections and tabling in Reynold’s Club, according to Shah.

The official rules are generally ambiguous: Under Article V of the Assembly By-Laws of 2010 that deals with meetings, quorums, and vacancies, clause six specifically states, “Public notice shall be given of all vacancies and the procedures to fill them by the Elections and Rules Committee at least two weeks before the election.”

But SG members are conflicted on ORCSA’s policies regarding publicity.

SG President and fourth-year Greg Nance agreed with the policy, saying SG shouldn’t use bulk emails as the primary means of publicizing information. “We find that the more we do it, the more likely we would see people hit ‘delete’ when they see our mail,” Nance said.

Undergraduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees and second-year Frank Alarcon believes publicity is SG’s responsibility, regardless of email rules. “It is the responsibility of the College Council Chair to publicize vacancies. SG has plenty of tools it can use to share information, such as Facebook and all-student emails,” he wrote in an email.

Second-year Athena Xie, who ran for College Council last year, did get an email but felt that efforts on ORCSA and SG’s part were not sufficient. “I haven’t seen any advertisement on campus or heard from anyone personally regarding the vacancy. I think it makes sense for SG to reach out for previous candidates first because they are the students who are interested in the positions.”

But Lee believes the root of the problem is that the seats are filled by CC and not a student-body vote. “It’s irresponsible and lazy for CC to simply put a ‘blurb’ out on the ORCSA newsletter in a half-hearted attempt to ‘publicize’ the open position. SG needs to reform its bylaws and allow all students to have a say in who will be filling vacancies.”

Shah said a vicious cycle of disregard contributed to the situation: Administrators don’t give SG responsibilities because students don’t respect SG, but students don’t respect SG because the administration doesn’t give it responsibilities.

“It’s an unfortunate process that Student Government doesn’t get to share all of the important news it has. Administration doesn’t view us as an accurate representation of the student body because students don’t care for SG,” Shah said in an e-mail.

­—Additional reporting by Adam Janofsky