After weeks of coverage and conversation, the votes came in last Wednesday to reveal who over two thousand students elected for our student government.
Three days before Wednesday, I wrote the following sentence:
Each team clearly worked hard during this election, but in my opinion, Team Aspire worked the hardest, and yet I am not surprised no one from their team was elected.
I wrote this sentence despite my open support for Team Aspire, because as much as I believed in them, I was also too aware, and discouraged, by what appears to be a historical pattern on our campus.
Some students approached me last week asking if I was biased. I was. Some students asked me if I knew there were international students on two of the teams. I did. A few have suggested I just have a bone to pick with UVUSA because of the 2009 election. I probably do.
Likely, this article will be read by members of UVUSA, eager to know just what unjustified bile I’ve got for my new government.
If I may be allowed just one more opportunity to have your attention, so my annoying anger can get out in my bad writing, we can all go back to our regularly scheduled apathy afterwards. I’ve spent three years caring too much, anyway.
So let me explain why I was biased in my opinions coverage, why I worry there’s often a lack of color to our government, why I’m still a bit bitter about 2009, and why I had bad faith in the only team of “ordinary citizen” students in recent memory to run against not one but two teams made up of UVUSA members and incumbents.
Fear not, for if I may be allowed just one more opportunity to get my annoying anger out in bad writing, we can all go back to our regularly scheduled apathy afterwards. Maybe I spent three years caring too much, anyway.
In 2009, I campaigned with Team Engaged, led by Najib Niazi, who was a business student from Afghanistan with one of the most incredible stories our university has had the privilege of telling.
Running with Niazi were two members of UVU Review staff, including Editor-In-Chief Jack Waters.
“We were made to think it was easy when we’d dipped our toes into the idea,” Waters recently told me in a retrospective interview. “When we dove headfirst, however, that’s when the difficulties were encountered. The trouble for any so-called outsider team is that you don’t have the resources available to learn the tricks of the trade.”
Any time outsiders have been interested in running for government, they never seem to know as much as they should, or have as much access to resources as they should.
Experience in UVUSA should not be requisite for positions in our government. This simply makes sense, and I’ve yet to hear a strong argument as to why things work otherwise.
Weeks later, I wrote an article for UVU Review that detailed every rule each team broke during the election, with a section called “Some Ideas For The Big Guys,” most of the ideas suggestions regarding reforming the entire process by rewriting the elections packet and changing the committee.
Waters also believed, “It’d be great to have an elections committee that is independent of those who are running for office. They are very helpful people who have been around campus for a long time, but the conflicts of interest are as stark as burnt toast.”
The only surprise I’ve had every election since is that every year, the same rules get broken, and the big guys, whomever they are, ignore suggestions.
“The rules and regulations in the election packet we were provided,” Waters recalls, “were meant to be succinct definitive rules, but those who actually read through the thing find it riddled with passivity and unclear directives, something you might find in a freshman pre-legal’s first draft of a written assignment.”
It always begins as a good idea.
“Well, we thought it was a good idea to run for student government because we wanted change,” remembers Michael Spurrier, a junior and business student with honors, who ran for student body president a year after Niazi in spring 2010.
“We had no idea it would be so demanding. No idea. We didn’t know it would’ve been smarter to take fewer classes that semester. We had to quit our jobs. It was absolutely stunning when the other team had such a huge head start.”
Incumbents might start campaigning before the packets are released — from within UVUSA, they may spread word they are planning to run, and they tap various people to be on one side or another. This sometimes can even begin well before fall semester starts, at UVUSA retreats.
“I know they say the retreats are for training, and people can learn things from them,” says Spurrier. “But really, for the most part, it’s crap. There’s food, there’s your friends, and it’s a party. No one’s really there to learn a thing. They’ll go to Hobble Creek, they ordered from Costa Vida, or some place — ten thousand dollars of student’s money going towards these activities –”
Really? Ten thousand? How do you know?
“Because they told me.”
I’ve heard rumors about this “discretionary spending” from almost every corner of the school — from the business school, to the Black Box theater, to the Liberal Arts building.
I don’t believe there is any evidence for these rumors, but it’s worrying enough to wonder how we can hold our government accountable when the fees budget is difficult to obtain or understand.
Spurrier recalls, “People would ask me, well, can you get me a tuition waiver if I support you? And I didn’t want to promise anyone a position, and the other team had been making promises for a while. Then, people started telling me they didn’t want to support us because they heard we were planning to take money away from athletics.”
That wouldn’t be the first time. “I had a close connection with the athletic department,” remembers Waters, “but we tried to keep within the rules as demonstrated by the packet. Had I known then what I found out after the election, we could have used that connection to an excellent end.
“The funny thing — tragic, really — is that some imbecilic rumor out of the incumbent’s camp was that our team was against athletics, when not only did we mention athletics in our platform and they didn’t, but I worked with the athletics department.”
What was found out after the election? Incumbents knew of a long-standing tradition of buying “trash” material from athletics to use for campaigning by taking advantage of some ambiguities in the rules packet and buying otherwise expensive poster material for cheap “use value” from athletics. This is something I mentioned in my 2009 election coverage.
Spurrier told me he realized the same thing when he heard the baseball team had sold vinyl posters to Team Innovate.
It probably happened before 2009, and unless things change, it will happen a year from now, too.
Do outsiders always find it difficult to enter UVUSA’s community?
“UVUSA has a culture,” says Clint Pulver, a senior in communications who coaches the drumline Green Man Group and ran with Richard Portwood in 2010 against Spurrier’s team. “They have a culture, and it’s been around for a long time, and they have a certain way of doing things, and there’s a certain chain of command.
“I had a hard time understanding and adapting to it, because I was an outsider, and I came in not knowing what to expect.”
Pulver emphasizes that he learned valuable skills while part of UVUSA, and encourages others to join. He has an optimistic attitude about improving the government — he even wonders if UVUSA could focus more on informing students. He has earned a place in UVUSA from the bottom up, and seems open to criticisms even as he sees what’s going right. If he wasn’t a senior, I’d support Clint Pulver as a presidential candidate next year.
As for me and my biases, hope springs eternal, but I’ll remain discontent.
One year after another, the election process is troubled by easily exploitable rules, a non-independent election committee, and an incumbency status that often works against outsiders who are accused of having no experience simply because they have never been part of UVUSA. And that is how I knew no matter how hard they tried or how much I supported them, Team Aspire were up against a minimum of three years of bad habits.
Voicing criticisms demanding reform and accountability appears to get no one anywhere; instead, people complain there’s a UVUSA “hate-fest” going on instead of coming up with sensible answers to well-informed concerns.
Every year, or at least three elections in a row now, computers mysteriously go down during voting week. Several people, from friends to random students in the hallways to staff to my roommates, have told me they couldn’t vote all week “for some reason.”
Every year, students are apathetic until bribed with video games and discounts at the spa, or confronted by protesters.
And every year, our multicultural diversity is pushed to the margins in favor of lighter faces you can put on a bank advertisement.
This is not right. And maybe it will never be right.
Newly elected, take note: UVUSA is in dire need of some changes, and as recently as just four or five years ago, Wolverines forced government officers to resign.
This will probably be the last time I care this much about the government. I say “last” not because I hope to graduate by next year but because I gave more energy to this election than I gave my classes, and the moral of the story is: one year later, things don’t really change.
It is a complete lack of surprise state legislators are hesitant to fund our university when our student government doesn’t take its own elections or dissenting students very seriously.
UVUSA, you can change this. The system is broken. If you don’t fix it, no one will. Because people like me, who have tried to forgo apathy and demand change — we have given up on you.
By Matthew A. Jonassaint