On Sunday, September 22, Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council announced that the position of 2013-2014 Davison House President is open. The announcement came from VSA President Deb Steinberg ’14 and was confirmed by Davison House Student Advisor, Nicole Wong ’14, who attended the Sunday night Council meeting. The main question facing both Davison House and the VSA now is what method to use in finding a president to serve on both VSA Council and Davison House Team.
In the interim period before the new president is chosen, Davison’s Vice President Khasi Jamieson ’16 has become the acting president. This is confirmed by President of the Class of 2016 Max Moran, who suggested that the VSA could conceivably appoint the Vice President to the position.
Moran said, “The VSA Constitution stipulates that if the President of a House, for whatever reason, is unable to carry out his position the Vice-President of the House will step in. This has been interpreted, historically, as strictly for an interim basis until an official election/appointment could be held.”
According to VP for Operations Ali Ehrlich ’15, this isn’t the first time a VSA position has become open during the school year.
“Over the past few years a few VSA council members have resigned,” she said in an emailed statement. “Last year the VP for Student Life, VP for Academics, and the Town Students Representative all resigned and the Noyes House President resigned towards the end of the year in 2009. So, this situation is definitely not unheard of but is somewhat unusual.”
At the meeting, council members discussed the various options they could take moving forward. One possibility would be to declare the position as available and allow anyone interested in serving to apply. After that process, the VSA Committee for Operations would interview the candidates, deliberate and then present their recommendation to the larger VSA Council. This is the process that the VSA usually takes for open VSA positions.
According to council members, two things make this situation different. Firstly, the position involved sitting on VSA Council and plays a larger role in student government than is typical. Secondly, the position was filled up until this week, and the fact that it became open now that the school year is under way makes finding someone to fill the position more complex.
Another option available to the VSA would be to hold special elections in Davison House. In this scenario, Davison would hold a week-long joint filing and campaigning period after which the House would vote on a candidate. This plan is also complicated due to the fact, noted by President for the Class of 2015 Casey Hancock in the council meeting, the VSA by-laws don’t give a clear answer to the question of whether or not freshmen would be allowed to vote in this election, given that House Presidents are usually elected in the spring before the freshmen class gets to campus.
Contributing to the number of routes to take in deciding the next Davison House President is the fact that the VSA Governing Documents don’t outline a clear method for handling situations like this.
As Ehrlich stated, “The VSA Governing Documents allow for a fair degree of flexibility in how we address this situation. Some of the options include filling the position through application and appointment or holding a special election. Some have also proposed that the Vice President should assume the responsibilities of the President and a new VP should be appointed.”
One argument some members of the VSA Council had for passing the responsibilities and title of House President onto the Vice President dealt with the fact that current members of House Team have already gone through House Team training. This is a considerable factor in the decision-making process knowing that House Team training involves an intensive week full of workshops and discussions. It is a clear advantage to anyone who has gone through this process because non-House Team candidates would most likely have to undergo an abbreviated training process.
The possibility still also remains that the VSA could simply appoint the current acting Davison House President to the permanent position. As Moran said, “Personally, having spoken to the current Davison House Vice-President and Acting President, Khasi-Marc Jamieson, I support his appointment to the position. This responsibility, taking over for the President when the position can no longer be carried out by the elected holder, is integral to the concept of a Vice-President.”
What became clear to Council was that the VSA needs a better method for dealing with emergency replacement situations. Many expressed frustration and confusion in the meeting, wondering why there wasn’t more written in the VSA’s policies and by-laws that would give them some direction in trying to find a new House President.
Despite the state of confusion that came out of the announcement, many expressed a strong desire to find a replacement House President quickly.
“Obviously it’s important that we move ahead with deciding on a new president for the House soon,” said Davison House Fellow, Professor of Psychology, Allan Clifton in an emailed statement.
He continued, “That said, I feel like Davison is in good hands until this is all figured out. I’ve been so impressed with the professionalism and maturity of this year’s House Team, and I have every confidence in their leadership during this time.”
Ehrlich echoed the emphasis on the need for a timely resolution to this situation. “The main concern I have heard echoed from a number of council members is really just that the VSA aims to do what is best for Davison House. This means ensuring that Davison has a leader for their house team and voice on VSA council as soon as possible,” she said.
She continued, “It also means ensuring that the individual who will assume the president’s role is both able to integrate into an already formed house team and fairly represent the views of their constituency.”
Moran expressed his opinion about where the VSA is leaning. “My feeling is that the council is leaning toward an open appointment process. This is not to say that the VSA will unilaterally appoint a new Davison President—there has and always will be consideration taken from relevant demographics (i.e. in this instance the Davison House Team),” he said.
Regardless of the process involved in choosing a new president, the general consensus among VSA members is that the process needs to be fair to both those interested in the position, and in Davison House residents in general. Allan Clifton echoed this idea. He said, “I’m not really involved in the process of finding a new president, so I can’t provide any information about the specifics. But decisions about house leadership are under the auspices of Residential Life. I’m sure that they’re going to work with the House Team to find a fair way, which represents the interests of the entire house, to decide on the new president.”
Looking forward, Ehrlich explained what students can look to in the future in regards to the Davison House President. “The decision about how this position will be filed will be made at VSA Council this Sunday. I strongly encourage anyone who has opinions on how this situation should be handled to attend the VSA Council meeting at 7PM in the CCMPR,” she said.
She continued, “However, anyone who has questions or suggestions should feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Input from Davison residents is one of the most important factors that will influence the Council’s decision on Sunday.”