Evaluating Student Body Government Candidates

With the election for a new student-government executive cabinet drawing to a close, voters have spent the last week evaluating those who have stepped forward to fill it. But against what standard should candidates be judged? Is there a prescribed set of characteristics for student-government members? Unfortunately, there is not; however, the necessary characteristics may be easily discerned if one considers the role of an executive cabinet member.

A good way to start is by taking a step back and examining the role of student government as a whole. Ironically, our “government” is unlike an actual government. Student governments function subordinately with permission and oversight; true governments do not. For this reason, one may argue that our student-body government is more like a dependent agency or department than an independently governing  unit or branch, which is an important distinction because it establishes our student-government nearer the middle than the top of LeTourneau University’s hierarchy. As a consequence, the power of student-body government is limited and should therefore not be overestimated; however, saying that its power is limited is not saying that it has none. Elected members are given the power and resources necessary for doing their jobs, the most important of which are to communicate the student body’s needs with school administrators and to help meet them by managing and staffing Senate, YAC, and LSM.

The 2011-2012 student body government officers (l-r): Kim Cook, LSM President; Jedidiah Schlung, Treasurer; Todd Adams, YAC President; Joe Bailey, Student Body President; Dani Havard, Student Body Vice President

Senate is composed of a body of elected representatives from each dorm floor, so the ideas for legislation and resolutions come primarily from the student body (ideally).  On the other hand, ideas for YAC and LSM events come primarily from their presidents, staff, and chief advisors (the Vice President of Student Affairs and the University Chaplain, respectively).   Regardless of where the ideas come from, Senate, LSM, and exist to serve the student body, and their executive cabinet positions exist to serve those organizations.

Given what is known about each organization, what should one say ought to be their leaders’ characteristics?  Before answering, one should know that some executive cabinet members have a power which is not expressed by the Student-Body Government Constitution. This power is often called “vision-casting.” As people who regularly interface with students and university administrators, executive cabinet members have the opportunity to be heard by those who have power to cause real change. This opportunity is a platform for sharing their ideas and vision for the campus. If, for example, a Student Body President recognizes the value of faculty mentorship, he can suggest to university administrators that they establish a program which encourages faculty-student mentoring relationships; he can promote change from the bottom up. If, for another example, a Student Body President recognizes a new way through which students can serve campus or another community, he may address the student body through senate or through speeches in chapel or elsewhere; he can encourage change from the top up. All executive cabinet members have the power to share their vision for campus to some degree; however, this power is restricted mainly to LSM and YAC presidents (having mainly top-down influence) and Student Body President (having both top-down and bottom-up influence).

So what characteristics will enable cabinet members to serve well as liaisons, problem-solvers, and vision-casters?   The best candidate will have good character, respect among students and university administrators, an ability to communicate ideas and concerns between administrators and students, an ability to mitigate conflict, and an ability to manage time well (especially if the leader has a large academic work load).

When choosing a candidate, a voter must remember two things: first that a ballet should not be cast without educating oneself of the candidates’ platform and character, and second that a ballot, regardless of whose name is on it, represents a commitment to support whoever is elected. Those who do not care about their student government should not vote.

The candidates’ speeches my be viewed in the chapel archive and ballots may be cast online until Sunday (26th) at 11:59 PM. To those planning to vote, please take your responsibility seriously – the student body executive cabinet is important for the normal functioning of LeTourneau University.

Written by Amos Hayes.

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