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SA's Unity Party is running unopposed, but not without expectations

Party candidates earn The Spectrum’s endorsement but with no opponent, focus of SA election shifts to issues at stake

04132012

For the first time since 2008, there’s only one party in the running in the Student Association election.

This disconcerting indication of student involvement in leadership on campus comes after the Clarity Party dropped out of the race a week before the election, leaving the Unity Party to run opposed. The election will be held from April 14-16.

Despite the lack of an opposing party in this year’s election, which is much different from the competition the university is accustomed to seeing, The Spectrum supports the candidates on the Unity Party and feels they are qualified for the SA e-board positions.

Regarding the Clarity Party, clearly candidates who don’t feel prepared, or don’t feel like they have a shot at winning, shouldn’t run. It’s vital that students who get elected are fully qualified and deserving of the responsibility of running the SA.

But at the same time, there should be more than three students on campus who are passionate enough about their university and willing to dedicate their time to representing students’ voices.

After all, the democratic process doesn’t work too well without any competition. Arguably, that process has also been damaged by recent changes to election policy.

Although one major change that holds promise – requiring presidential and vice presidential candidates to run separately – failed to be brought before the Senate, a change in SUNY delegates’ appointment has been instilled in the election process. Now, the president will appoint SUNY delegates instead of the student body electing them.

This decision is more questionable than the policy change that failed to be enacted, as it reeks of nepotism and seems to decrease students’ influence on the SA. But considering the consistently low voter turnout each year, this argument doesn’t hold as much as sway as it could.

In a sense, allowing delegates to be appointed makes it easier for multiple parties to run, because potential groups will only need to gather three candidates.

This change, though it didn’t have the desired effect this year, could help prevent elections featuring only one party in the future.

But this year, the Unity Party’s path to election has been conveniently paved for them; the candidates now face elevated scrutiny as their high-level positions in leadership are all but guaranteed.

Presidential candidate Minahil Khan, her vice president running mate Sean Kaczmarek and treasurer Joe Pace presented their platforms to The Spectrum staff Sunday, in what typically would have been a bid for endorsements over the competing party or parties.

Instead, The Spectrum had a choice between endorsing Khan and Kaczmarek – who are running on the same ballot – and Pace, or endorsing no one at all.

So in lieu of competition, the candidates’ presentations served as indication of their level of preparation and commitment to serving the student body for the next year and the value of the new ideas they’re bringing to the table.

The increase of the mandatory student activity fee by $10 per student each semester gives the SA a significantly increased budget, so the stakes are higher than ever – and so, too, should be the attentiveness of the student body to these candidates’ plans for their money.

Khan and Kaczmarek’s extensive experience and internal knowledge of SA is a plus but their proposals lack specificity

Both of these candidates have participated in multiple clubs and served on several committees during their time at UB, giving them useful insight into the inner workings of SA.

Accordingly, Khan and Kaczmarek have proposed several promising policies aimed at improving communication within SA and diversifying the students and employees who run the association.

Khan hopes to reach more students by taking advantage of UB’s listserv system, a simple move that would help increase general awareness of the opportunities within the SA.

Similarly, she proposes a more consistent interview process and system of evaluations of SA employees to help encourage a more effective and diverse workforce and avoid a consistent trend of in-house hiring.

Kaczmarek, whose proposals focus primarily on clubs, suggests the development of a much-needed grievance policy so students have a formal method for submitting complaints and holding SA employees accountable if they make mistakes.

Increased communication between SA and the student body at large is essential, and these candidates show an impressive awareness of this issue and a willingness to speak candidly about internal issues.

However, Khan is less willing to speak in anything more than politically-correct terms when it comes to the efforts of past SA leaders. When questioned about the much-maligned SA website redesign, her response was disappointingly devoid of opinion or critique.

It’s important these candidates are aware of both the successes and failures of their predecessors so they can avoid making the same mistakes.

In fairness, the Unity Party’s candidates are under less pressure to take a stand, as they face no opposing party. Their lack of candor can be explained by their comfortable position, but that doesn’t make the minimal logistical details of their proposals any less disappointing.

Kaczmarek opened his speech with a discussion of the importance of a new club handbook, one that would be consistent and more useful to club coordinators. But upon further questions, the details of those improvements weren’t made apparent – nor their necessity.

Meanwhile, Khan proposed exciting plans to help bus students downtown for free or reduced-price events, but did not have a concrete idea as to what buses would be used other than to go with the cheapest option.

Her ideas to reach out to students seeking out graduate school by offering subsidized test prep books seemed promising, but didn’t extend much beyond that initial proposal.

The policies that Khan and Kaczmarek laid out are all relevant to student needs and reflect the candidates’ desire to reach out to the student body at large.

They clearly need to develop their ideas with greater detail, but despite the lack of logistics, these candidates appear up to the challenge.

Despite lack of fiscal experience, Pace is a clearly committed candidate with promising ideas

Typically, candidates running for the position of SA treasurer have worked in the position before on a club. They usually have experience directly managing a budget and their major tends to be related to finance or business.

Pace is an aerospace and mechanical engineering major, and though he’s worked on the SA’s Financial Committee and has experience dispersing funds, he has less fiscal experience than The Spectrum is accustomed to seeing in candidates.

But Pace is clearly knowledgeable about the budgetary frustrations faced by clubs and has a clear idea about how to alleviate them.

His plan to redesign the rollover policy for clubs is attentive to the diversity of clubs’ interests and priorities.

Currently, a club must fundraise 50 percent of its budget and run four events over the course of a year in order to retain its remaining money at the end of the fiscal year.

This policy is problematic, as it caters to clubs that are inclined to hosting large-scale, revenue producing events. Meanwhile, smaller clubs that struggle to raise money are denied their rollover funds as well.

Pace’s plan helps equal the playing – or fundraising – field. Clubs can now host additional events, activities and community service projects to reduce that 50 percent requirement down to as low as 23 percent.

The policy is a smart compromise that will help clubs currently failing to meet rollover requirements, without changing the rules for clubs that have no issue meeting the 50 percent goal.

In a more ambitious move, Pace hopes to establish a budget line to help clubs host national conferences at UB. If successful, this policy could help improve UB’s national profile and encourage students to network within their niche interests.

The proposal is an example of an intelligent application of SA’s increased budget, as it would help club members and the UB student population as a whole.

The remainder of Pace’s proposals are less fleshed out, but if he can fulfill vague promises about increasing diverse food options on campus and taking student opinions about concert choices into account, he’ll more than make up for his slight lack in financial experiences.

Voter turnout may reach historic lowsEven in years past with multiple parties contending for students’ votes, turnout has been meager, hovering around an embarrassing 15 percent.

Now, with the Unity Party’s essentially assured victory, the motivation for students to vote seems likely to reach a new low – but this shouldn’t be the case.

As members of this academic community, voting in SA elections is a critical way to help remain active in the democratic process and have a say in events that impact the campus.

Students who complain about the performers selected for concerts at UB, for example, shouldn’t speak a word unless they do their part to elect student leaders who they feel would represent their needs.

So this year, even with only one party running, it’s still important to cast a vote. Supporting the Unity Party, as The Spectrum does, is one choice. But it’s also possible to cast a vote in protest of the lack of competition, and against the recent changes in SA election policy, by submitting a blank ballot.

The lack of democratic competition this year is far from ideal, and that discontent can be expressed at the polls. But fortunately, the Unity Party’s platform and professionalism suggest that they are deserving of the majority anyway – even if they did have an opponent.

The editorial board can be reached at editorial@ubspectrum.com


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