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Wanted: TCU Senators

News & Features | April 27, 2011

Around this time last year, hopefuls for Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate were in the heat of their elections. This year, students hoping to gain spots on TCU Senate are considerably less stressed. In what TCU Senate Parliamentarian Dan Pasternack, a senior, called “an unprecedented situation,” 17 candidates stepped up for 21 open seats, allowing each candidate to “walk on” Senate without the usual election. Both senators and members of the TCU Elections Commission (ECOM) have expressed disappointment in the lack of turnout, but both groups have differing opinions of its cause.

“[ECOM] definitely could have done a better job advertising the regular Senate seats,” TCU Senate President Sam Wallis said. “I also think they could do a better job of maintaining regularity between meetings, candidate forums and elections. For example, it would be very helpful to know that every year, on a certain date, is the candidate’s forum.”

According to ECOM’s head of public relations, junior Joel Greenberg, ECOM followed the standard advertising procedure with posters and TuftsLife announcements. But sophomore Alec Howard, ECOM’s Treasurer, admitted that the group was unable to advertize in the Tufts Daily because of budgeting issues. Attributing ECOM’s current deficit to the unanticipated cost of VoteNet, an online election service, Howard said the rising number of special elections has hindered ECOM this year.

“We’re always trying to experiment with new ways to advertise to students,” Howard said. “Specifically with the last election, we were struggling especially with paid advertisements.”

Howard expressed frustration on behalf of ECOM. “We were definitely disappointed at the last candidates meeting. It’s our job is to encourage the student body to be excited about elections and student government.”

In the weeks since the news broke about the no-contest election, it has been difficult for some students to accept next year’s senators.

“Oftentimes when Senate makes controversial decisions or discusses controversial matters they feel empowered by the idea they are speaking for the entire student body,” sophomore Alexandra Lis-Perlis said. “But when an entire Senate walks on, how can we really call that ‘democracy?’”

Sophomore Nick Vik, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate last fall, agreed.

“The problem is that many students either don’t care enough to try to change things, or don’t feel as if their voices are being heard,” Vik said. “If students already feel as if their interests are not being well-represented, how much worse will that get when they are not allowed to choose their own representatives?”

Although many students have expressed frustration with ECOM’s advertising efforts, some have acknowledged the unforeseen complications this school year has brought to the group. Last semester’s reform of the community representative system is the most notable of these changes, adding more costs and responsibilities to ECOM’s usual duties. Next year, ECOM plans on submitting legislation to limit the number of special elections per year.

“I’m the first to criticize ECOM,” Wallis admitted. “But they’ve had their hands full in making the [community representative] process work.”

Though dissatisfaction is shared by both groups over the lack of spring Senate elections, both bodies have noted the cyclic nature of student interest.

“There’s a possibility that interest in the Senate is directly tied to campus issues,” Greenberg said. “During my freshmen year, the embezzlement from the Office of Student Activities created a campus attitude for people to get involved.”

“Sometimes people don’t like what’s going on,” Pasternak agreed. “When Senate screws up, people want to run. But sometimes it’s an event independent of Senate. When I was running as a freshman, people were running because someone was teaching a class on insurgencies. Students wanted to stage an insurgency on TCU.”

Though there are many motives for running for Senate, it appears that students have yet to discover them. As for the four remaining seats that need to be filled, ECOM has planned a fall election to complete the Senate body. The empty positions will be offered again to next year’s junior and sophomore classes, who only have five members on Senate out of seven available seats. However, if there is a lack of interest at the candidate’s meeting, the empty positions will be offered first to the senior class and if necessary, to the incoming freshmen class.