Hello. You may know that I’m studying abroad this semester and currently traveling through Europe on spring break. You may not know that, for the past two weeks, I’ve actually spent most of my time pondering the Amherst Association of Students (AAS) E-Board Election instead.
Why? Because I care too much.
I worked as Senate Recording Secretary from Fall 2010 until this January, which means that I attended every single Senate meeting during those 18 months, meticulously minuting every last discussion and vote. Whether I was Stockholmed is debatable; the fact that I am over-invested in our student government is not.
Elected officials should care and pay at least as much attention as the lowly minute taker did, don’t you think?
So before you cast your electronic vote tomorrow, please ask yourselves and your candidates this: How much do they actually care?
Noah Gordon ’14 has already been part-time Secretary in everything but name during his tenure as Senate Webmaster. He restructured a dysfunctional Senate webpage and organized years’ worth of old minutes and documents. Presidential candidate Josh Mayer ’13 has put in great time and effort to rethinking the AAS Constitution, drafting a new vision of student governance last spring. Meanwhile, his opponent Alex Stein ’13 sowed the seeds of change by challenging Senate’s tunnel-vision dedication to budgetary requests. Alex called on senators to instead devote more time to direct involvement, to discussion and hands-on improvement of our school.
Now, some election campaigns last year got on the wrong side of mud slinging. My intention here is not to obfuscate the issues, only to bring some points of interests to light.
Transparency and accountability are the hot topics of the day. But for all that the current Senate and E-Board have tried to improve transparency and engage students, their constituents’ faith is wearing thin.
Senate too often failed to create a Red Room culture of inclusivity and open discussion. Off-hand remarks and off-color jokes were no foreigners to Monday night meetings. Of course, nothing ever made it to the official minutes; all extraneous details were strictly off the record.
So here’s the question: whom do you trust to be honest with you, and whom do you trust to put in the time, dedication and knowledge necessary to change the cancerous culture of AAS?
Speeches won’t be enough. It will take time and dialogue, students to senators, senators to administrators and back. And E-Board members, unlike senators, need some qualifications beyond simply, “I want to reach out to students and involve them more.”
A President must have vision, first and foremost. His/her task is not one of minutiae and details; his/her job is to speak powerfully with the collective student voice and represent the AAS to administrators and faculty. A Vice President must understand Senate floor proceedings. Charged with presiding over meetings, s/he must set a Red Room environment that allows senators to both efficiently dispatch with routine duties, as well as discuss student concerns with due care and respect. A Secretary must be organized and unafraid of paperwork. More than just the Keeper of the Van ™, s/he is Constitutionally the Senate’s in-house archivist and caretaker of institutional memory. The JC Chair must have a sound knowledge of the Constitution: a level head for judging breaches of the law, but also an open mind to see where the law might be improved. And the Treasurer requires a vast amount of technical know-how to ensure the Treasury’s efficient and legal operation.
These are only the basic parameters by which to judge candidates. But they are foundational. Without dedication, determination and aptitude, promising ideas too often become nothing more than rapidly-cooling hot air once a candidate gains office and ticks the achievement off of his/her resume shopping list.
The wrong people have been elected to Senate and E-Board in the past and will mostly likely be elected again in the future. There’s nothing we can do about that.
But we can ensure that it doesn’t happen on our watch.