Student government elections deserve campus participation

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Welcome to not just the season for flooding from melting snow, but for a flooding of campus with a variety of flyers, posters, and postcards; campaigning friends clad in vibrantly colored shirts; and a barrage of solutions to problems you probably didn’t know you had. Yes, it is student government election time, and I am here to remind you that you might actually care. Let’s start with four reasons why.

The administration listens.

Having been a ranking actor in student government for the past two years, I can confirm that Carnegie Mellon’s administration really does listen to students. And, as expected, when they have a question for which they want student input, student government is the first group they ask. The people you elect for the next year will truly be your voice in Warner Hall. Student representation and the way it factors into the administration’s decisions is almost impossible to quantify, but it is likely this same inexactitude that makes it so valuable. These four students — student body president and vice president, vice president for finance, and vice president for organizations — must be able to speak honestly and openly about the overall student experience.

These people control your money.

If intangible benefits are unconvincing, let me provide an entirely quantifiable reason to vote. The $90 student activities fee that you pay each semester is allocated through student government. It pays for most of the budget of nearly every student-run organization and event on this campus. The vice president of finance is responsible for chairing a committee whose task is to fairly distribute about $1.15 million to just under 200 recognized student organizations.

A new position is a new challenge.

For the first time we will elect a student body vice president for organizations (VPO) — a person whose duties involve overseeing CoSO, the committee that decides which clubs are officially recognized by the university, and acting as a voice and a resource for those organizations. While the intent is clear, the exact role is open to interpretation. The person who is elected to this position will likely set the tone for future VPOs, a significant responsibility. How we decide as a student body who is the best person for this position is, in my opinion, an open question.

This year you can vote.

Based on the student body constitution changes that occurred earlier this month, every student has the right to vote. If you are studying abroad, you can vote. If you are a graduate student, no matter what point in your program you are at, you can vote. The days of Carnegie Mellon poll taxes are over — every student can vote.

We are just now at the beginning of the election cycle. Over the coming weeks we will watch as students declare their candidacy; we will read their advertisements and learn their platforms. Shortly before the election, The Tartan will host a debate to help everyone better understand and compare the competing platforms. And then on April 3, voting will begin.

Last year less than 25 percent of the student body voted. This is not due to a lack of advertising on behalf of the Elections Board or the candidates. It can’t be attributed to student government not being important enough to take the two minutes it takes to vote — I hope my arguments above show it is.
Yet, many might not yet realize the role student government serves. This has hopefully been somewhat remedied this year, with continuing programs like the Loop Bus and the new Tartan Rewards Program and Textbook Flea Market, not to mention student government’s active leadership in rallying against the mayor’s tuition tax.

To potential candidates, I encourage you to talk to current leaders and involved students, and find out which issues are important to campus and present solutions to them. I encourage you to be specific and realistic. Don’t tell me there are “important issues” — tell me what the issues are and suggest ways you might fix them. Student government is not all-powerful, not even close.
Candidates that can focus on a small number of actually achievable goals which are relevant to the community will draw attention to their platform and their campaign, and will get votes.

Elections are an enjoyable and exciting time for me, not just because this snow is going to melt and it will begin to feel like spring, but because new motivated and passionate students will step up with plans to make this university a better place. That competitive, optimistic spirit embodies Carnegie Mellon.

Good luck, and I will see you at the debates.