Last Sunday, Sept. 29, representatives from the Davison House Team came to a Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council meeting to give their recommendation for how the newly vacant position of Davison House President should be filled. They previously met with members of the VSA and the Office of Residential Life decided that the best course of action would be to ask the VSA to suspend a bylaw requiring a Special Appointment or Election and allow the current Vice President to assume the position. The VSA ultimately turned down this proposal and instead opted to hold a Special Appointment.
While we at The Miscellany News understand the difficulty of the situation and accept the decision made by the VSA, we nevertheless think that the fairest and most representative method in this case is to hold a Special Election among the Davison constituency. Furthermore, we call for a standard, clear procedure which dictates that the VSA hold Special Elections in all future situations in which a House President resigns.
When evaluating whether to fill a position by Special Appointment or Special Election, the VSA must consider whether it is putting its voice above those who will be directly represented by the new appointee. When Davison representatives asked the VSA to allow their Vice President to assume the position of President, they were speaking on behalf of the House Team. With the exception of a few positions such as Treasurer, Secretary and Vice President, the Davison House Team is not elected by Davison residents, but rather is appointed by Residential Life. However, as residents who interact with other residents regularly, they have direct connection to the students who will be represented by the new president. In this sense, it is their opinion, rather than the opinion of Council, that more accurately represents of the opinion of Davison House as a whole.
The problem with Special Appointments, especially those that appoint council members like Davison House President, lies in the fact that it risks of silencing the voice of constituents who will be directly represented by the appointee. Using Davison as an example, when deciding to hold a Special Appointment, the VSA declares the position as “open” and establishes a week during which any eligible candidate can submit an application. The Operations Committee then evaluates the candidates and gives their recommendation to the larger VSA Council. The problem is that it is quite possible that no one in the Operations Committee lives in Davison nor knows any of the House’s concerns. Furthermore, while it is true that there is a Davison representative (the acting President) on Council, he would be only one voice that could easily be out-voted, once Operations’ recommendation came to the Council floor. This ultimately underscores that through Special Appointment, the choice of the Davison President is almost completely out of the hands of the body of students that he or she will represent.
Although interested Davison students could theoretically approach members of the Operations Committee and voice their opinions, thus influencing the vote, the fact remains that these interested students are not voting members of Council, and any influence they have can only be put into motion at the discretion of voting members. This is critical, especially since at least one Operations Committee member has expressed public bias toward one candidate. The House President is the only elected position that directly represents the entire House to Council. Not only that, but the House President is one of the few elected members of House Team. By simply appointing a new President, the power of the residents of the house is completely removed. Undoubtedly, a Special Election is the only way to accurately represent the interests of the house, both on VSA Council and on House Team. Therefore, we believe that the new Davison House President should be elected by the people that he or she will represent.
It is true that all House Teams undergo special training before freshmen arrive. It is because of this special training that members of the VSA Council expressed concern that a elected President who did not go through this training would be unprepared to take on the duties required of him or her. However, it is important to note that one of the House President’s primary duties is to act as a liaison between House Team and the VSA. House Teams training is not geared toward this, but rather focuses on bonding the team and building skills that better equip them to promote the well-being of all House residents; the House President should be able to act as a person with whom residents can confide. However, this should not come at the expense of denying students a direct liaison to Council.
At the last Council Meeting, one of the main concerns expressed by Davison House Team was that they were pressed for time: Davison’s first House event was fast approaching and House Team expressed its desire for a permanent President before it took place. While the VSA decided not to take the quickest option (which would have allowed the current Acting President to assume the position immediately), they did praise the Special Appointment as the faster alternative to a Special Election. While we understand the need for haste, it must be recognized that a Special Election would have only taken three days longer than an Appointment.
We are aware that the VSA was concerned about the precedent that they would be setting with this decision. Because the “governmental” positions of House Teams generally follow a normal election procedure, it is easy to make the assumption that the Vice President would take over the responsibilities of President, and a new Vice President would either be appointed or elected by special election; this confusion must be dispelled by clear bylaws. We at The Miscellany News believe that, whenever possible, all positions that sit on VSA council that can be filled by election, should be filled by election.
The main concern of the VSA should be to fairly and accurately represent the student body. In terms of Davison’s vacant Presidency, a Special Election would have allowed Davison residents to have their voices heard, rather than solely that of the individuals who sit on Council.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.