Special election to decide new VP for Student Life

After the unexpected resignation from the Vice President for Student Life, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) called a special session of Council on Nov. 19 to decide how to fill the vacant position. Upon the recommendation of the Board Of Elections, the VSA unanimously voted to hold a special election, which will guarantee a new VP for Student Life by the beginning of Thanksgiving Break. Students gained the ability to register their candidacy just before midnight on Tuesday and can continue to do so until Sunday, Nov. 24 at 7:00 p.m.

Unlike the standard election cycle that takes place each spring, this election will collapse the process into one time line. According to Vice President for Operations Ali Ehrlich ’15, “We decided in order to fill the position as quickly as possible, given that Thanksgiving Break was coming up quickly and that this was a very essential position to council and to the campus as a whole, we would have a filling and campaigning period begin at the same time.”

The voting period for this special election has also been abridged from the standard 48 to 24 hours to allow the decision to be made prior to the exodus of many students from campus over Thanksgiving Break. Although the voting window has been halved, the VSA asserted that this period still provides students with ample time to cast their ballots. Ehrlich explained, “Historically, we have found that almost all votes are cast in the first 24 hours of the 48 hour election voting window, and this should not significantly hinder people’s ability to voice their opinions.”

Despite the various changes to the elections process, Board of Elections (BOE) co-chair Connor Martini ’14, who also serves as the representative for the Class of 2014 on Council, defended the Board of Elections’ decision as the most representative course of action. Martini explained, “It was the decision of this year’s BOE that an appointment of an executive board member who is an all-campus elected position, and not a position of little consequence, a very important position, that it needed to have the students’ voice heard more than an appointment could allow it to be heard.”

He continued, “I think in the sense of transparency and equal access to the VSA, a special election is more appropriate.”

As soon as the Board of Elections announces declares a victor, the newly elected student will undergo an intensive orientation process. VSA President Deb Steinberg ’14 explained that the Executive Board will help train its new member. She noted, “[Ehrlich] and I will start training the new person so that they are equipped to lead meetings and know about all the ongoing projects, but also feel encouraged to pursue projects of their own.” The previous VP for Student Life worked with the Student Life Committee on projects such as constructing more gender-neutral bathrooms, student employment and policies surrounding sexual assault and inter-personal violence.

While the position will be filled within the next two weeks, the current vacancy leaves numerous committees and projects without a permanent leader. In the meantime, other members of the VSA will serve as proxies. Aside from sitting on VSA Council meetings, the VP for Student Life chairs the Student Life Committee and sits on committees such as the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT), the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence and the Committee on College Life.

Steinberg served as a proxy for the Wednesday meeting of BIRT and will work with the Committee on College Life. “I emailed all of the committee chairs and told them that I would be proxying until we fill [the position]. So they sent me any relevant information…they had the agenda and any relevant information. The administration has been actually really, really supportive.”

VP for Academics Shruti Manian ’14 will also proxy for a VP for Student Life position when she works with the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence. She explained, “I am hoping that it is going to go well because I have spoken to [Associate Professor of English] Kiese Laymon; he’s the chair of CIE. He’s going to send me agendas and he’s going to send me past minutes; that’s going to give me some kind of idea what they have been doing recently…I have a fairly good idea of what’s going on in CIE and the various subcommittees. It also helps that Academics and Student Life have intersecting interests.”

However, Steinberg asserted that the temporary position required only limited research due to the relationship of the VSA Executive Board. She explained, “As an Exec, we meet multiple times a week, so [VP for Student Life] has been filling us in throughout the year on projects and issues that have come up. So actually I feel prepared.”

The resignation of this year’s VP for Student Life marks yet another resignation of a VSA executive board member, a problem that caused last year’s VSA Council to question the procedure for handling unexpected vacancies. Last year, two executive board positions, the VP for Academics and VP for Student Life, were filled mid-semester; these positions were filled through special appointment, not special election, processes. Although all three situations involved unexpected resignations, the VSA and the BOE concluded last year’s circumstances are markedly different from this one.

Steinberg explained, “[Last year] was because the time line was very different; it was already second semester, so there was a lot less time for the people to even be in the position since we have our elections starting in March.”

She also noted the positive differences between the due situations. She said, “This is much better because this person will be in this position for at least one month this semester and the whole second semester. That’s really exciting because they can actually do a lot of things with that time.”

The pattern of unexpected resignations that has yet again affected the VSA has not gone unnoticed; however, Steinberg  envisions using this sudden departure as a catalyst in further internal consideration and change. She reflected, “It’s frustrating that this keeps happening and it definitely makes me want to examine why people end up leaving these positions in the middle of the year. There are probably things we could be doing better to maintain our retention rates; maybe that involves providing more support for students.”

However, for now, the VSA remains focused on encouraging students run for the open position. Martini explained, “I would encourage people who are interested in getting involved in the VSA to file for the election…I think that one of the problems we have on this campus is people seeing other people’s names on the elections website and not running because they think they can’t beat them. That cuts out a lot of talent.” He concluded, “So I would encourage all those who are thinking about running to do it.”

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