Opinion | Ramanan’s three-headed SGB presidency

By Jack Troy, Staff Columnist

It has now been more than two weeks since Pitt Student Government Board elections, and I’ve still yet to wrap my head around a single decision made by President-elect Harshitha Ramanan.

Her campaign was full of blunders such as her soft stance on an LGBTQ+ resource center and an Instagram post with the confounding phrase, “Sugar, Little Extra Spice and Everything Nice”, but that’s not my primary concern. I’m just trying to figure out who is going to be calling the shots in the fall semester, because it’s not shaping up to be Ramanan.

The most recent and powerful evidence of this is her “Bachelor”-esque selection process for chief of staff, an especially important choice for an SGB president like Ramanan, given her lack of experience in the organization. Ramanan texted her former competitors-turned-chief of staff candidates Joe Landsittel and Tyler Viljaste at 2 a.m. the morning after the election, offering to take them on “fake dates” to “figure out if [their] personalities vibe.”

In “Bachelor” terms, they both got a rose, likely creating the first co-chiefs of staff arrangement in SGB history. At first glance this seems like a politically prudent move — unifying the student body after a vitriolic election is an admirable goal, after all. Unfortunately, this will likely just create an unwieldy and factional SGB for the next academic year.

Despite attacking each other’s campaigns earlier this month, Landsittel and Viljaste have both claimed at various points to now be on good terms, although from the outside their relationship appears icy at best. The highest praise that’s been exchanged between the two is Landsittel’s Vision slate referring to Viljaste as “a decent man of good standing” on Instagram. Viljaste has been even more measured with his comments — a perfectly acceptable attitude after Landsittel’s election day tantrum helped incite threats so severe they warranted police and University involvement.

This is decidedly not the foundation of a functional professional relationship, and Landsittel has acknowledged their lack of overlapping goals. On many key issues, the two co-chiefs of staff will likely spend their time and energy pulling Ramanan in opposite directions.

For example, Landsittel advocated for rolling forward a projected $300,000 student activities fee surplus in order to reduce future fees, while Viljaste was looking to use that money to support student organizations and endow scholarships proposed by the Black Senate. When it comes to allocations, the key function of SGB, Landsittel was seeking a major overhaul to root out purported discrimination in the request process. Viljaste, on the other hand, seems willing to stick with the status quo.

They simply don’t see eye-to-eye on most issues, regardless of any personal animosity. As a result, SGB will now have Viljaste and Landsittel — representing the “establishment” and outsiders, respectively — competing for Ramanan’s attention. Of course, an SGB president consulting with multiple advisers is to be expected and even encouraged. The cause for concern here is Ramanan’s lack of a plan or apparent convictions. This is a recipe for a year of rudderless and ineffectual leadership.

She submitted to Pitt administration and trustees before even getting into office, stating “I understand that even though Student Government Board is really big, at the end of the day it’s the real adults that are calling all the shots” during the meet the candidates event — the implication being students are merely fake adults.

And I’m sure her election made a lot of “real adults” happy. With such a defeatist attitude from Ramanan, the Board of Trustees has probably escaped a year’s worth of substantial SGB pressure over fossil fuel divestment.

She also declined to comment after her stunning victory in what I’d consider to be an odd approach to fulfilling her populist mandate. Now, she’s chosen to hedge on her first major decision as president-elect by appointing two chiefs of staff. All of these head-scratching choices lead me to believe that Ramanan never expected to make it this far and will be piecing together her vision for SGB as she goes.

Between her aversion to tough choices and the competing pressures she’s set herself up to face as president, it seems clear that Ramanan won’t likely be pulling the strings in the fall. So when SGB makes a mistake — an inevitable part of governance — who can we hold accountable? 

Jack Troy primarily writes about politics and SGB. Write to him at [email protected].