The student body’s elected voice only can whisper this year compared to voices of the past.
After a low participation in Students’ Association elections this year, 29 seats on Congress remained unfilled by elected representatives, including six of 20 class senator positions.
If Congress expects to be a voice that shouts in advocacy for the students, it will do so with about half of its members unelected by the students.
The low participation almost seems unexplainable–especially when positions like the five freshman class senator seats, which have drawn seven or eight candidates during the past couple years, only draw four candidates.
But the structure of Congress has changed and apparently so has the desire to become part of that structure.
Three years ago, each class stopped electing a president, vice president and three senators to represent it. Instead, each class now elects five senators to Congress.
With the class president and vice president went some of the luster and appeal of being a class officer. Fifteen freshmen ran for five seats in fall 2002–the last time classes elected a president and vice president. Three years later, four freshmen ran for five available seats.
Perhaps much of this decrease in freshman participation eliminated those who ran only to put the office on their resumes.
Another negative trend tied to the decrease of candidates in SA elections is the increase of representatives appointed each year because of the number of empty seats still left at the beginning of the term.
Three years ago, Congress had 18 seats vacant after elections, and it immediately filled 10 of those positions with appointments, which Congress members approve with a majority vote.
The number of appointees has only continued to grow: 10 in 2003 and 23 last year.
This year’s total of 29 unfilled seats should have come as no surprise.
Executive officers this year took the responsible step of requiring all students who might have otherwise sought appointment to a position to run in this fall’s elections.
Unfortunately, the fall elections did not yield enough candidates, and Congress sits in its current state–appointments still will be necessary.
Massive numbers of appointments to SA endangers Congress’ mindset because these students likely feel less accountable to the constituents executive officers appointed them to represent.
Elections essentially cause candidates to feel indebted to serve those who put them into office. This year’s appointees will come to office through the votes of fewer than 30 Congress members–not constituents who brought them to office.
The Optimist published an editorial in late August calling for potential SA candidates to think hard about how committed they are before turning in their petition for candidacy.
Potential candidates seemed to have embraced that message–too well. But perhaps they missed the most important message we hoped to convey: Congress needs committed students, most importantly, to run for office and, now, to seek appointment.
Not everyone can simply vote for their representative voice. Some must also be willing to add their own voice so that Congress can advocate for students at full volume.