Low return in Senate petitions

With 37 seats up for grabs in the Carnegie Mellon Student Senate, only 21 people have submitted petitions to fight for them. Where the problem lies depends on who you ask.

Senate candidates were supposed to have their petitions in to the Election Board by April 14 and had to confirm their candidacy by last Friday evening. Of the 27 who originally submitted petitions, only 21 have accepted.

Current Senators do not have to resubmit petitions, and their names reappear automatically on the ballot.

“People are doing what they can when they have the time to do it,” said senior decision science major Franklin Williams, chair of the Senate Elections Committee, indicating that many people are too busy to join Senate and that even those on it already are too busy to perform some of their duties.

Williams feels interest is low because students don’t perceive a real benefit to joining Senate, as a spot on Senate offers neither pay nor credit.

Williams put up posters and asked housefellows to send e-mails to all their residents in an effort to raise awareness of today’s elections. However, according to Senator Gerrit Betz, a junior in philosophy, the Elections Committee does not do its own public relations — that’s the job of the Senate Communications Committee.

Williams and Betz agree that both Elections and Communications got off to a late start.

“The Communications Committee was a little behind,” said Betz, a former member of the committee. “We started late and couldn’t handle it.”

Betz, however, thinks that the real problem may lie not with Communications, but rather with some misconceptions on the part of students.

“A lot of people don’t think they can get the 25 signatures in two days, but they totally can,” Betz said, referring to the number of signatures necessary on a petition to run for Senate.

Misunderstandings, however, may not be the entire problem. According to Senator Joe Arasin, Senate may suffer from lack of support because it is perceived as ineffective.

“It’s not due to people not wanting to make a difference,” Arasin said. “The problem is that current Senators are not running because they feel like they can make a bigger difference outside of Senate.”

Arasin, a Senator for two years, will not run in Monday’s elections, as he has chosen to give up his seat.

Senate Chair Julie Beckenstein sees a different problem: Senators who choose to run for an executive position sometimes decide not to run for Senate.

This year, three tickets of candidates, all six of whom are Senators, are running for executive positions. Depending on who wins the election, between four and six people are not going to have a place in student government. Either way, Senate is losing experienced members.

“It’s emotionally hard to say ‘I’m going to go back where I just lost,’ ” Beckenstein said.

Beckenstein, who has been on the Senate for longer than either Betz or Arasin, doesn’t see the lack of candidates as an indicator of failures in the Senate.
“I don’t think this is a trend. Some years you get a hundred candidates, some years you don’t,” Beckenstein said. “It goes back and forth.”

Arasin agrees that there have not always been so few candidates.

“It varies from year to year. Last year there were a lot of very competitive elections,” Arasin said.

According to Beckenstein, many people elected to Senate this year were involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, which let them bring their experience and ability to communicate to the Senate. Unfortunately, it also means they are often too busy to perform some of their Senatorial duties.

Student Senators are elected proportionally by school, and right now there is no school that has more candidates than it has seats.

Wherever the problem started, it will be solved next semester when the Senate appoints enough candidates to represent each school.

Betz only sees problems getting candidates from the College of Fine Arts (CFA). He cites class scheduling and the existence of a smaller, more direct representative body within CFA as difficulties in attracting Senators from CFA.

“It is disappointing we don’t have more students interested in serving the community in this capacity,” said Gina Casalegno, director of Student Activities. “I believe students have the capacity to dramatically influence the life of the campus and create positive change.

“While we won’t be in a position to fully elect next year’s Senate this spring, I do believe those who are elected have the opportunity to create a vision for Senate and its role on our campus and can work to communicate that vision to students next year.”