Impending SU elections face potential empty positions
Campaigning for Student Union elections begins on Monday but only one slate has declared interest for executive positions—and the slate has yet to find all necessary members.
The slate, headed by presidential candidate and current Vice President of Administration, junior Matt Re, has not yet selected a candidate for Vice President of Finance.
If another slate does not run, it will be the third uncontested exec race in a row.
Current SU President, senior Julian Nicks said that if the vice president of finance position on the running slate is not filled before campaigning begins on Monday, the Constitutional Council will have to decide how to proceed.
Nicks said competition in the election is not indicative of a successful SU executive slate. He was the only student to run for SU President for this year.
“The last two SU execs have been uncontested, and their level of productivity, in my opinion, hasn’t been any different from the slates when they were once contested,” Nicks said. “These are very serious roles and big time commitments, so as long as the people who decide ultimately to do it are ready for the time commitment that it takes, it can be an excellent exec.”
But 2010-11 SU President Morgan DeBaun, whose Open Slate beat Nate Ferguson’s Bold Slate three years ago, argued that an uncontested slate is likely to run a less powerful campaign.
“I think the fact that these teams aren’t up against any competition will definitely affect how they run,” she said. “The point of an election is to give students a voice and so they can feel empowered to make a change. When there is a choice, people are forced to take sides and make judgment calls, and the opinions and decisions that the team has to make must be explicit.”
“SU has roughly $2 million to be responsible for, which is a lot of money. There’s a lot to do with it and a lot of opinion in the office about when to use it and how to do so, and students should know where their officers stand in terms of that money. When you run unopposed, no one really cares about your opinion on what to do with the money because they don’t really have a choice,” she added.
DeBaun said recent internal changes to SU might be potential causes of decreased interest in executive positions.
“I ran for president because I had control over the budget, and I knew there were things I wanted to do with that. That’s a rule that’s now been changed. Now the old team writes the budget rules for the new team,” she said. “It’s made a pretty big impact and might be why some people don’t want to run. It’s as if George Bush was writing the plan for [Barack] Obama to use—it just doesn’t make much sense. I think people might have less incentive to run because they have less of a control over what they can really do and are just following other people’s pre-set rules instead.”
In addition to a low level of running interest, SU remains without an election commissioner for the upcoming race.
In the absence of an election commissioner, Nicks and current Vice President of Public Relations Taylor Docking have taken on many of the responsibilities of organizing the election. Nicks said that Sophomore Class Council Vice President of External Affairs Jodi Small may take over the position.
Nicks believes that lack of monetary compensation is likely a deterrent for many students to pursue the time-consuming positions.
“The reality is, with the job having very few incentives, outside of 30- to 40-hour weeks…it’s a very big time commitment for people to make—for people who have jobs and things like that—because it’s unpaid. It could be very difficult for some students who might be interested but literally can’t afford a position of service to the community,” Nicks said. “We have to think more creatively about how we can provide opportunities for them.”
Nicks added that other student leaders around campus are compensated, including residential advisors and members of the Congress of the South 40. Currently, the Student Union Constitution dictates that SU executives cannot be paid out of the student activities fee. Though Nicks said a change in this legislation has been considered, it will likely not be proposed this year.
“We don’t think we have enough time to fully educate people on what they’re voting on yet and actually get it passed, which is why we have decided to not necessarily try to get it in for at least the spring ballot. But perhaps we might push some legislation [possibly after I get out of office] for a potential change in the fall,” Nicks said.
Dean of Campus Life Jill Carnaghi suggested that most students’ high levels of commitment on campus might inhibit them from considering student government.
“Things kind of ebb and flow,” Carnaghi said. “I think students are busy, if not busier than they’ve ever been, which sometimes concerns me. I’d rather have students get involved in one or two things that they’re excited about and can invest their time in.”
Nicks also shared the concern that time constraints and other pressures make it difficult for students to serve in student government or become invested in its role on campus.
“This seems like it’s going to be a time of transition, and definitely it’s something we’ve been thinking about in terms of SU and…about the culture of SU that might have changed how we bring forth student leaders—maybe it’s an increasing workload, maybe it’s the time constraint on students at Wash. U., maybe it’s the school becoming harder and students actually don’t have time,” Nicks said.
“But we are looking for ways to re-garner interest in SU, and we make a lot of big changes in the University and we definitely hope students will step into and fill those shoes because the shoes have to be filled in order to take the University to the next level.”