The following is the opinion of the Emerald’s editorial board and not Emerald Media Group as a whole. The Emerald Editorial Board exists to provide the newsroom a voice on prominent campus issues. It operates separately from the objective work of our reporters, giving our organization a platform to create and continue a dialogue on campus.
The board’s members include Sararosa Davies, senior arts reporter; Meerah Powell, digital managing editor; Will Campbell, associate news editor; Kylee O’Connor, sports reporter; Mark Kellman, engagement editor; Cooper Green, editor in chief; Patience Greene, opinion columnist; Billy Manggala, opinion columnist; Alec Cowan, opinion editor.
This is normally where the Emerald would write an endorsement of an ASUO candidate. However, students only have one option this year and that creates two big questions: how did this happen and what does it mean?
This election season’s only campaign slate, UO For You, paints its top three platform goals in broad strokes: accessibility, inclusivity and affordability. More specifically, Amy Schenk and her running mates, Internal VP Tess Mor and External VP Vickie Gimm, want to tackle the tuition crisis, improve food security for students, make mental health services more accessible and push cultural competency training for students, specifically incoming freshmen.
A one-slate campaign is unprecedented in recent ASUO history but it isn’t exactly an accident. Schenk, Mor and Gimm are not natural allies, and each have distinct views. Instead of running against each other, they decided to band together and form a “coalition,” or what Schenk referred to as a “student movement” at the Emerald town hall.
The positives of this action are untested, but at face value, they communicate a desire to compromise over political differences. The slate members’ views, which are often at odds, may slow processes to a gridlock — but they may also ensure that policies and decisions are drafted through different viewpoints even after the election is long in the past.
The downfall is that a one-choice race isn’t democratic. Even with the slate’s visionary platform and efforts at representing diverse opinions, students won’t have the opportunity to express via vote which perspective they align with and what speaks to them. Students didn’t even get to select the diverse “supergroup” that formed the coalition.
This one-slate campaign is said to be an attempt from inside ASUO to clean up politics, with the goals of making it more welcoming and open-minded. Instead, it comes off as even more inaccessible than before.
Although ASUO hasn’t been renowned for its openness. A small portion of the student population votes in these elections — 24 percent last year — meaning that even when there is competition, candidates only need to focus on a few major groups to sway the vote, such as Greek Life or freshmen.
More than voting itself, the competition from other slates is what drives candidates; debates expose weaknesses and strengths, and strong competition forces candidates to perfect their platforms. Gimm skipping the town hall for a class should lead students to question just how motivated the slate is to communicate with its voters.
But competition can also breed empty promises and shameless pandering to voters. ASUO has a history of competition bringing out ugly displays of power. This is part of the reason UO For You was happy to run unopposed. But surely there is a better solution to cleaning up ASUO politics than eliminating choice entirely.
The bigger concern is what this situation says about UO’s student population. The same school year students protested and cried over the national presidential election, only one person runs for campus president and students look the other way. Were those protests the dying gasps of a now fully apathetic student body, or do students just not care about on-campus politics? If it’s the latter, can you blame them? ASUO hasn’t traditionally been forthright in educating the campus on what it does and how it operates.
But students should care. ASUO distributes approximately $16 million yearly — that’s student money. If you are involved in extracurricular activities on campus, you probably have something at stake in this election. It would be a mistake to imagine ASUO won’t make any changes to current funding. Sitting President Quinn Haaga, for example, chose not to grant club sports a $50,000 request that ASUO governments gave yearly in recent history.
It is possible that UO For You’s vision of political compromise will prove successful and demonstrate that ASUO officials are trying to find different and better ways to serve students. But regardless, there’s not much that students can do now. Barring a bizarre and unanticipated write-in movement, UO For You will be next year’s government.
But it’s not too late for the student population to change its outlook on campus government. If getting involved and changing ASUO culture from the inside doesn’t sound appealing, it’s crucial for students to remain skeptical and create systems that hold those in power accountable. Attend senate meetings, host rallies or contact ASUO members directly. Demand interaction. What ASUO really needs, maybe more than a lecture on democracy, is a culture change.
In the meantime, let’s hope UO For You is as ready to lead as promised, because — for better or worse — we’re stuck with them.