Howard: Postpone SGB election until more candidates come forth

By Giles Howard

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s proposed 1 percent tax on student tuition is clearly linked to our… Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s proposed 1 percent tax on student tuition is clearly linked to our failure as a voting bloc to engage in last week’s local elections. Voter turnout was abysmal in the ward that includes Central, South and North Oakland, with only 10.8 percent of registered voters casting a ballot, The Pitt News reported.

Because we failed to vote en masse or engage with the candidates before the election — only a dozen students showed up when mayoral candidates Kevin Acklin and Franco “Dok” Harris came to campus — in-state Pitt students should be prepared to pay an extra $133 each year, while out-of-state students face a heftier $230 yearly fee.

No matter how you look at it, student voter apathy has tangible consequences. But if you thought that students would learn their lesson after last week’s electoral debacle, you’d be wrong.

Case in point: Next week’s Student Government Board election is the most local of local elections for Pitt students, but it has received little attention on campus, with nine candidates running for nine positions, The Pitt News reported.

The SGB election might not sound important, but SGB controls a significant amount of money on this campus that dictates which student activities occur. Each undergraduate student at the Pitt pays a $160 activities fee each year, and SGB is responsible for disbursing more than half of it.

Associate Director for Student Life Terry Milani said that of the $2,429,238 expected to be collected from the $160 student activities fee in this academic year, SGB controls the allocation of $1,276,715 meant to support student organizations on campus. The rest of the activities fee goes to support the Pitt Program Council, WPTS, Telefact and student volunteer outreach programs, etc.

Importantly, SGB’s control of more than half the money collected from the student activities fee gives them the power to shape student events on campus and either destroy or grow student organizations.

But SGB’s power extends beyond spending student money. SGB also appoints students to University committees, act as representatives for students to City politicians and lobbies for new policies and initiatives like the one-day fall break.

Because SGB is the “Student Government Board,” it is understood to officially represent Pitt students within and outside of our campus community.

Because SGB has so much power over student life at Pitt and because it is expected to represent us to the administration and city officials, it is important that SGB be truly representative. But even when there is competition for SGB offices, only a minor percentage of students participate in SGB elections.

For instance, last year’s SGB elections saw a four-way race for SGB president with intense campaigning on the part of all the candidates who actively sought student organization endorsements in the run-up to the final vote. In spite of the heated race, only 3,876 students — roughly 20 percent of eligible voters — voted for president in last year’s election, The Pitt News reported.

20 percent voter participation hardly validates SGB as a governing body representative of undergraduate students at the Pitt, but at least last year’s election involved competition. This year, with the nine SGB positions currently uncontested, the deadline to file for SGB candidacy was extended to today at noon, but, as of press time, no additional students have entered the race.

Late candidates are required to submit 400 signatures, a 500-word essay and a $100 deposit in order to get on the ballot, but meeting these requirements doesn’t guarantee a late candidate could enter the election. SGB president Kevin Morrison said that the elections committee has to meet and approve any late candidate before today at noon and, although they’ve been told to keep their schedules open, there is no guarantee that the elections committee would approve a candidate who met all these requirements in time.

With no late candidates having emerged so far, the SGB election on Nov. 17 promises to be a non-event where the few students that do participate are simply rubberstamping a broken process.

If a few late candidates don’t emerge by the noon deadline today, SGB would be wise to amend the process and postpone the election by a week or more until more candidates step forward. A non-competitive election would not only be silly, but would tarnish the legitimacy of an already-questionable student body that controls a significant amount of student funds.

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