Pamela Smith | Staff Photographer, Courtesy of Joe Landsittel and Tyler Viljaste
The television franchise “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” are known for presenting the winning contestant with a rose. In reality television fashion, this gesture symbolically played out last week within Pitt’s incoming Student Government Board.
President-elect Harshitha Ramanan said she couldn’t decide if she wanted to appoint Tyler Viljaste or Joe Landsittel — her two former competitors for next year’s SGB presidency — as her chief of staff. So, she said she played “Bachelorette” with Viljaste and Landsittel, going on “fake dates” with them to see if they were compatible.
“It was like 2 a.m. and I was like, we’re gonna play ‘Bachelorette’ together, because why not? I think it’s probably because it was 2 a.m. that I said that, but they were totally on board with it,” Ramanan, a sophomore neuroscience major, said. “I was like, we’re just gonna do fake dates together, and we’re gonna figure out if our personalities vibe.”
Ramanan said she “ended up giving them both a rose” by appointing the duo as co-chiefs of staff after realizing they all got along well. The chief of staff position is officially selected by the president once inaugurated, although only one person has historically occupied the role.
Landsittel, a junior math and physics major, confirmed Ramanan’s story. He said he hopes they all can get along well in the future.
“My reaction, I guess, officially is that I am looking forward to getting to know these people better,” Landsittel said. “And from my experience in SGB I think working in that kind of capacity works a lot better if you have a closer friendship to some extent, as opposed to just being acquaintances with people.”
Landsittel added, while laughing, that the details of Ramanan’s “‘Bachelorette’ game” are “still not clear” to him, and he was a “bit surprised” when she brought up the idea to him and Viljaste. Viljaste declined to comment on the situation.
This is the latest development in this year’s unusually contentious SGB elections. Just hours before voting started in the March 2 election, the Vision Slate — which included Landsittel as its presidential candidate — was taken off the ballot due to violations of campaign rules. Viljaste, a junior finance and politics and philosophy double major, submitted the complaint to the board’s elections committee, which started the hearing process. In an upset victory later that day, Ramanan, who had no previous experience in SGB, won the presidency in a nearly two-to-one margin over Viljaste.
One of Ramanan’s first jobs as president is selecting members of the Office of the President. The current positions in this office are the chief of staff, operations director and art director. But according to SGB’s governing code, the president can create new positions within the office “in order to accomplish the Board’s agenda.”
Caroline Unger, the current chief of staff, said the job right now is to act as a “right-hand man” to the president and provide “advice when needed.” Unger added that she’s responsible for connecting task forces, board members and committee chairs with resources, co-chairing the First Year Council and holding managerial responsibilities such as providing locker spaces to student organizations.
Unger, a senior philosophy and political science double major, said she thinks “there’s a lot of potential” with having two co-chiefs of staff. She also said Viljaste and Landsittel will provide “two important perspectives” — Viljaste with a historical understanding of SGB and Landsittel with a “fresh perspective.”
“I’m really excited for Joe and Tyler and I think there’s a lot of potential in creating a joint position,” Unger said. “I can say from my own experience, it’s a lot of work and having two people in that supporting role, just means there are more people within SGB you can continue to support.”
Unger added that while SGB is still in the early stages of transitioning to the next year’s board and president, she has “open lines of communication” with Viljaste, Landsittel and Ramanan.
Ramanan said she chose Viljaste and Landsittel because she saw their “passion” during the campaign, and wants to use that passion to listen to students’ needs and respond accordingly.
“I wanted to bring that passion and that focus to make the student body’s voice heard, give them all the resources they need … and I couldn’t think of a better way than working with both of them,” Ramanan said.
Viljaste, who currently serves as SGB’s vice president and chief of cabinet, said he was initially unsure about taking the position alongside Landsittel due to harassment he faced on election day. Viljaste said he and Landsittel are now on good terms after speaking with each other.
He said he doesn’t “want to be done” with SGB, and feels that the co-chief of staff position will allow him to continue to work on his initiatives. He added that with his SGB experience, he wants to help Ramanan “navigate” SGB and provide guidance so the organization can accomplish more goals, such as his work with the LGBTQIA+ task force.
“I didn’t want Student Government Board to suffer because Harshitha didn’t feel like she had someone by her side that could help her navigate this new territory for her,” Viljaste said. “And so, I also decided that I want to be chief of staff, or take the job with Joe, because I can make sure that Student Government Board can do as much as it possibly can and help Harshitha do and work on as many the things that she wants to work on as possible.”
In terms of his future policy priorities, Landsittel said he hasn’t finished coming up with his goals yet given the new co-chief of staff title. He said he hopes to weave in some of his campaign goals and “[figure] out which of them would be best.” He said he’s also hoping that through SGB’s new Elections Procedures Review Task Force, the board will restrict some of the elections committee’s power.
Landsittel added that he thinks he and Viljaste will pursue their own goals while jointly serving as chief of staff. He said his understanding is that he will focus on helping Ramanan with future initiatives while Viljaste will focus on previous SGB projects.
“In terms of the spheres of influence, I don’t know how much overlap there will be between the work Tyler and I are doing,” Landsittel said. “But I’m perfectly happy to work with him in any way that would benefit the student body.”
Despite the turbulent events of election day, Ramanan said she can depend on Viljaste and Landsittel because they both want to help Pitt students.
“Regardless of what happened, these two students have the best interest in their hearts for Pitt and, like, that’s what made me trust them,” Ramanan said.