This past Monday, Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) President Wesley Varughese reported to General Council that by the Saturday deadline, only three candidates had submitted paperwork to run for the upcoming executive elections—one for president and two for vice president. Varughese then successfully proposed to the council that it vote on extending the deadline to 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 14.
The need and process for granting this extension raises several concerning issues regarding our student government.
First, the lack of sufficient candidates for such an important election marks a severe failure on the part of LUCC to publicize and stimulate enough interest in potential candidates. If getting more than one candidate is important enough to have to extend deadlines, perhaps these elections should have been publicized better and candidates sought well before Saturday. The leadership of LUCC is doing precisely this now, but only after having their bubble popped and moving the application deadline forward. One may wonder what role the presidential run of the current public relations secretary had on the publicity of the election.
Second, the events that transpired over the weekend let slip LUCC leadership’s desperation in shoving another candidate into the presidential race, with or without confirmation of the extension. Certain candidates were convinced – with whatever persuasion – to run and start collecting signatures after the deadline had elapsed, but well before the proposal for extension had come to the General Council.
This indicates that certain individuals were being given prior opportunity to begin collecting signatures when the extension had not been approved or extended to the rest of campus.
Further, the LUCC leadership’s motivations behind attempting to introduce new candidates appears to have much more to do with deflecting bad repute off LUCC due to an uncontested election than the desire to offer multiple candidates to campus. It is indeed better to have competition in such an important election, but when it is forced and brought about in a questionable manner, there is little to be gained.
Third, the rushed and haphazard manner of the actual mechanism of extension should raise alarm. The cabinet brought the issue directly to General Council without passing it through the Polling, Elections and Leadership Committee that should be handling all manner of election-related queries. However, given the short timeframe and the ad-hoc nature of the committee, it can be perceived as understandable that the cabinet decided to bring the matter directly to the body with the final say.
What is more troubling, however, is the fact that half the representatives and a significant chunk of the cabinet was missing from this meeting. The LUCC parliamentarian was not in the room to answer procedural and legislative queries, and a majority of those voting were unelected proxies. This raises serious concerns regarding the role of proxies in LUCC, but that is an entirely separate discussion.
Varughese even mentioned this absence as evidence that first week of Winter Term is exceptionally tough—given that even LUCC representatives could not make it – and thus, the deadline should be extended. However, he was well aware that the absent members were busy with other engagements that clashed with General Council that week, not because of some exceptional toughness of that week.
Wrongly framing the issue at hand hints at the dishonesty involved in this entire episode. It is one thing to recognize LUCC’s failure and honestly seek an extension due to the lack of candidates. It is another to set a precedent for the future in which this abstract idea of “first week toughness” is sufficient to extend important deadlines when there is no clear candidate seeking to make legitimate use of the proposed extension.
It is important to note, however, that this criticism comes from a place of disappointment rather than destructive outrage. Having been involved in LUCC, I understand its merits and appreciate the many successes the Varughese administration, in particular, has achieved. That is precisely why this situation is so unfortunate and has the potential to taint our student government.
LUCC must recognize its failures and move to reflect on four fronts relevant to this issue – allowing candidates more time between when the applications are released and when they are due, generating greater publicity and awareness regarding elections, transparency in the role of officers and cabinet members in the decision-making of class representatives, and the voting rights of proxies.