Stacking the deck
“Let your voice be heard,” the main UVU Student Government Web site declares. “Help make a difference on UVU’s campus.” But what is the process by which someone can get involved?
One of the best ways to do so is to apply for an appointed position within the UVUSA Student Council. While certain student government positions are elected by the student body, the vast majority are appointed by what’s called the Executive Council. What comprises this authoritative body?
The Executive Council, currently headed up by Student Body President Trevor Tooke, is comprised of seven students filling seven positions; in addition to Mr. Tooke, there is an Executive Vice President, a Vice President of Academics, and a Vice President of Student Life (the three of which are elected by the student body), a Vice President of Clubs that is elected by the clubs themselves, and two appointed assistants to the Student Body President. The other 25 appointed Student Government positions, including Academic Senators, MAWL president, Fine Arts chair, etc., are not part of the process.
While the Executive Council is chosen democratically through student body elections, the committee that enforces election rules, cleverly named the Election Committee, is not chosen democratically, but, according to Section II Article C of the UVUSA Constitution, by the Student Body President alone. By extension, the appointed positions are filled not according to the desires of the students, but by the potential biases of the student body president. The student body having a lack of direct influence on a process that so directly concerns them is disconcerting.
It is not that we UVU students do not have an interest in student government and who is part of it. According to Phil Clegg, the Assistant Dean of Student Life, the national average for student body participation in student government/council elections is around 4-5 percent, while the average at UVU has been, in recent years, from 9.5 percent to as high as 17 percent, and Clegg said that the administration is still working to increase that number. The efforts of Clegg and others who have pushed for increased participation in these elections have clearly helped.
But efforts can only go so far when there are also issues of a ridiculously unfair consolidation of power. According to the UVUSA Campaign Rules, any “Donated money or items may be contributed to a party’s campaign if first approved by the Election Committee [emphasis in original]. Donated items will be considered at fair market price (retail or wholesale) and will apply towards the candidates spending limit. Verification and final say of all values both bought and/or donated are at the discretion of the Election Committee.” Since the value of accepted donations is chosen by a potentially biased Election Committee before being added to a candidate’s spending limit, those limits can easily be stilted to handicap a candidate that could be a former opponent or a personal enemy, allowing for a deeply murky ethical quagmire.
The virtually unlimited power of the Election Committee also extends to the mandatory “$200 refundable clean-up/facilities damage deposit” that each party is required to pay when applying. The deposit will be returned only “If the Election Committee decides that the party has cleaned up appropriately.” Again, the Committee is given uncontrolled power with nothing in place to protect from abuse. In addition, candidates are told to “conduct themselves in an ethical and honest way,” but that “Any [ethical] violation may penalize the candidate involved, with or without substantial evidence proving one party at fault.” The Committee’s ability to do as they please knows no bounds.
Perhaps the most serious concern, however, is the complete lack of information about the system and the process that supports it. Aside from the minimal information contained in the Student Council application packet, there seems to be very little information available on the UVU Web site. For something that has such a strong—and student fee-subsidized—influence on our college experience, why the unavailability? If the process is supposed to be fair and unbiased, how can Trevor Tooke, Student Body President and member of the Executive Council AND Election Committee, get away with being a Facebook fan of Team Elevate?
We deserve to know more. And we deserve to not have to ask.