SU in review: No slates, Speaker Series and PR efforts

Earlier this week, Student Union Exec released a report detailing its accomplishments and general review information for its 2014-15 tenure. With SU elections occurring before spring break—earlier than in previous years—this Exec’s term is coming to a close, and in that vein, we offer our independent review of Student Union’s past year.

The Elevate! slate, elected last March by around a 60-40 voting margin, will be the last of its kind: starting with next month’s election, future SU campaigns will be run by individuals rather than slates. This major transition in the election process makes SU more open to the general student body, and it started in September with Freshman Class Council elections—which saw 54 percent of freshmen vote, the highest mark in years.

One can’t help but attribute that turnout to the slate system’s elimination, and with SU’s surprisingly fast implementation of the new electoral process, we’re hopeful that the new system will encourage greater participation in student government.

Another huge positive for this year’s Exec was the success of the Speaker Series. One of Vice President of Finance and senior Nick Palermo’s campaign promises was to modify the administering of Speaker Series funds, and Elevate! achieved this goal with great success. Last year, Provost Holden Thorp needed to step in to a Speaker Series slot, and there were few big, exciting names in the lineup.

Additional funding this year, though, has filled the Speaker Series lineup with a diverse collection of speakers, and with names like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Kwan and LeVar Burton on the list, students have every reason to fill Graham Chapel this semester on a seemingly weekly basis. Even better is that no speakers have had to cancel this year, which, while outside SU’s control, still reflects well on the current group.

On a smaller level, we applaud the decision to award Category 3 student groups—the lowest level—with $150 of funding per year. Previously, CAT 3 groups received no funding, but the new plan offers an improved opportunity for the small groups to attract more participants and build up their on-campus presence.

The entities underneath the SU umbrella didn’t perform as well across the board, however. The senior class trip moved from its traditional location of Chicago to Kansas City, Mo., to the delight of seemingly no actual seniors. Bauhaus, thanks to last March’s Treasury decision to strong-arm the Architecture School Council by supplying no funds for the annual Halloween party, completed its rapid demise and was replaced by the Sam Fox Fest, meaning SU wiped away one of the four events listed as a campus tradition on Wash. U.’s Wikipedia page.

Elevate!’s top administrative aim, and the one we urged most for in our staff editorial upon the slate’s swearing in, was to increase the accessibility and publicity of SU. On this goal, the results are decidedly mixed. On the positive side, Elevate! can point to facts and figures: 35 percent of students voted in the fall Student Union elections, compared to just 22 percent last fall, and Treasury seats, uncontested last year, had two people running for every position this time around.

But the vice president of public relations resigned unexpectedly earlier this semester, a negative in SU Exec’s publicity push, and it’s still unclear whether students not actively involved in the administration interact with or care about SU’s functioning. It’s still quite possible that students only know about SU from frustrating appeals for funding from Treasury; frankly, though, it’s unclear whether any effort by SU could do enough to sway the student body in this regard.

Ultimately, that this year’s SU Exec has done enough to write a yearly report about is an accomplishment in and of itself, particularly when compared to last year’s leadership board, which did little more than anger students with its austere, arbitrary policies—remember aWILDnight, anyone?—before leaving office.

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