Today is a big day. No, it’s not yet another statutory holiday on which Colgate makes us go to class, and don’t worry, you haven’t forgotten your mother’s birthday. No, tonight, Thursday March 31, at 9 p.m. the Student Government Association (SGA) will open polls on the portal and for the first time ever, students will select not only their choice for President and Vice President, but also their class Senators.SGA’s recent election history is littered with scandal: broken promises, attempted impeachments, personal vendettas and, last year, with our very own (water) ‘Gate scandal. Penalties for hanging sheets with water bottles became one of the deciding factors of 2010’s exceedingly tight election. Though most students remain unaware, our current student government is in its relative infancy.
The constitution under which the SGA now functions was passed in 2007, written by then-president, Jeremy Lipstein and other members of the SGA. Even so, its short history has been anything but monotonous.
Throughout the last five years SGA has become a vastly political realm, complete with accusations of slander, planted incriminating photographs and even theoretical political parties, all of which culminated in last year’s election, which became the closest and most dramatic election in Colgate’s recent history.
The creation of the constitution itself caused controversy during its formation as, according to former presidential candidate Senior Max Weiss, Dave Kusnetz ‘09, the future President and then-Speaker of the Senate, had “created the speaker position to be a stepping stone to president.”
This apparent strategy proved successful for former President Kusnetz, but has not come to fruition since, unless junior Mike Miller, Presidential candidate and the current Speaker of the Senate, wins this year.
The Kusnetz affair brings history and intrigue of its own, as Kusnetz’s election led to the attempted impeachment of the previous president, Rob Sobelman ‘08, who was accused of abusing his presidential power in supporting Kusnetz’s campaign. Though Sobelman was never successfully impeached, the episode brought up general questions of favoritism within the SGA.
In some respects, the statistics speak for themselves. For the past three consecutive elections, the winning presidential ticket had helped run the former president’s campaign, and four out of five previous presidents had served on the Executive Board.
The Executive Board, referred to colloquially as “the E-Board”, is different from Senate and Class Council in that members are appointed by the President and Vice President, rather than voted in by the Student Body. This undoubtedly leaves room for some amount of nepotism and the positions are often promised to supporters during the campaign period. It is almost always from this pool of selected students that the future president is elected.
Things changed last year, however as, according to former presidential candidate Max Weiss “the anointed candidate didn’t run.” Instead, three different tickets began what would be one of the closest, and messiest, elections in SGA history. After a myriad of allegations, violations, appeals and an eventual tie down to the very vote, a runoff was required and Liz Brodkey and Mike Newberg were declared the winners. Following what became such a personal and heated election, Brodsky and Newberg surprised a great deal of the student body by appointing an E-Board that contained not only members of opposing campaigns, but also one of the other presidential candidates: senior Ethan Levitt. During an interview, both current President Brodsky and Vice President Newberg rejected the idea that future candidates are “hand-picked” by current Presidents, but instead stated that those on the E-Board tend to run for office simply because they are the most involved members of SGA or because, as Brodsky stated, they decide to run after seeing that “the E-board is where you get stuff done.” So all this leads us to ask ourselves: why do people want to be SGA president in the first place? Well, believe it or not, the presidential position provides much more than just a great parking spot. The President and Vice President have a say in almost every student issue; Vice President Newberg comments: “When I am in meetings I genuinely believe that my opinion effects policy.” In addition to this, past student body presidents have served on presidential search committees, have helped to interview candidates for other administrative positions, and have spoken at high profile events such as President Herbst’s inauguration.
If this hasn’t convinced you that SGA might be more powerful than students typically expect, consider this: in this year alone the SGA has changed academic and disciplinary policy, negotiated parking with Campus Safety, and saved our cable television (you can thank SGA next time you turn on Jersey Shore). SGA also receives 2.5 per cent of the student activities fees that equal out to about $20,000 annually. Not surprisingly, after last year’s exciting election, tensions were high and apprehension growing over th drama that might unfold in this year’s elections. Yet to many this year seems different.
The atmosphere at this year’s debate, unlike the charged atmosphere of last year’s equivalent event, seemed more like a friendly conversation than a presidential debate, as candidates Miller and junior Alex Restrepo chatted pleasantly beforehand about what hostels one should visit in Prague.
So is this election devoid of potential drama? Only time will tell. Keep your fingers crossed. The point is that this Sunday night, after what hopes to be one of the first clean elections in several years, Colgate will usher in a new Student Government which will, perhaps more than you may like or realize, significantly affect your future Colgate experience. And if last year’s election has taught us anything, remember this: your vote counts.