Grad students question Senate election process

Turnout was low and most graduate and professional candidates ran as write-ins.

Blair Emerson

After a recent change to the Student Senate’s bylaws  that guaranteed seats to graduate and professional students, some scrambled to run as write-in candidates before last week’s election.

But because the bylaw amendment took effect so late in the process, some graduate student leaders are now taking issue with how the election was handled.

Graduate and professional students weren’t previously guaranteed senate seats proportional to their representation in individual colleges. To change that, Council of Graduate Students President Andrew McNally proposed the bylaw amendment at last month’s Student Senate meeting.

Last year, a bylaw amendment removed the Graduate School as a voting unit and grouped undergraduates and graduates together within their respective colleges.

Though McNally’s amendment, which gives graduate students guaranteed seats in the senate, took effect this election, he said that it’s problematic that the All Campus Elections Commission’s process puts undergraduates and graduates in the same voting pool.

“To me, that makes no sense whatsoever,” he said.

Instead, McNally said, students in each council or college should be able to choose their own senators.

“I think it’s not in the best interest of students and the councils for them not to be able to choose their own senators through their own election process,” he said.

Chris Clark, president of the Graduate Students in Education and Human Development group, said it wasn’t ideal to have graduate and professional students run as write-in candidates this year.

The elections had such a low turnout that the elected senators may not effectively represent students’ interests, he said.

“I applaud the people who put themselves forward as write-in candidates,” Clark said, “But at the same time, I’m also going to say that if you won with three votes, that’s not necessarily representing the [graduate students].”

And because graduate, professional and undergraduate students face different sets of issues, first-year medical student Jordan Weil said they should elect their own leaders.

“I went to a smaller private school for my undergrad, so I don’t know what sort of issues [undergraduates] would be facing,” he said.

Some students said the election process was unclear.

But Becky Hippert, executive assistant to the University Senate, said she and the ACEC tried to make sure graduate and professional students were aware of the elections this year.

“We were trying to get as much of the word out as possible,” she said. “It’s just hard to reach that many students.”

Hippert said she would have liked to see more graduate and professional students file for senate seats, as only a fraction of them did.

“They were never prohibited from filing — that bylaw amendment was just to designate seats for them,” she said.

Still, Weil said some students, including him, didn’t realize non-undergraduates were guaranteed seats until late in the election process.

Polls to elect student senators were open Wednesday through Friday of last week, but it wasn’t until Thursday night that Weil opted to run as a write-in to represent the Medical School in the Student Senate.

To campaign, Weil said, he posted a Facebook status asking friends to vote for him. It was enough to earn him the win, with 70 percent of the 30 votes cast in the graduate senator election.

He also won the undergraduate medical school student senator seat, with nearly 80 percent of votes.

Weil said he thinks a lack of understanding about what the Senate does could explain the lack of student interest.

“I don’t even know what the Senate does,” he said. “Why would there be a lot of involvement if we don’t understand how it impacts us?”

Dispute on deciding ties

Several senate races ended in ties where top candidates received just a handful of votes each.

In the College of Education and Human Development race, there was a four-way tie for the graduate student senators, who each received just three votes.

The two winners were chosen at random — the standard process for deciding ties in the Student Senate.

One of the winners, Leah Reinert, was elected as a write-in and said she didn’t even know she won.

Some students, like McNally, say the process for deciding ties and the senate election in general must change.

“The way things went down this year are a serious concern,” he said. “I think it’s something that we need to work on in the future.”

Clark said it’s worrisome that someone can be elected without knowing.

To address this, he said, communication between students and elections officials must improve.

“The process needs a little bit more clarification so we can actually get candidates for these positions,” he said.