Although candidates and organizers paid considerable lip service to the allegedly impressive turnout at Sunday evening’s presidential debate, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that the event did precious little to improve campus discourse in any tangible manner. Goodrich’s Great Room may have been crowded, but this was an illusory victory at best: a vast majority of the spectators were College Council members, Record staffers or personal friends of the candidates.
The debate’s failure to reach a wider audience is disconcerting, especially in light of continuing concerns that the campus at large is apathetic with regards to the elections and day-to-day activities of College Council. The experience of this year indicates that these concerns are not unfounded: candidates often run unopposed, and this past year some positions (a handful of College Council house representative slots) were filled only through first-come, first-served e-mail solicitation.
It would be convenient to blame this all on student apathy. But that is a generalization at best specious, at worst grossly misrepresentative. The events leading up to Sunday’s debate reflect a trend even more disturbing than general indifference. Regrettably, the sloppy, negligent work of certain College Council officers only perpetuated the incorrect belief that this year’s CC election is only peripherally relevant to the Williams community.
The entire election process was governed in a downright lazy and flippant manner, one thoroughly unbecoming such an important political event. The College Council Constitution lists among the body’s essential roles “supervising all College elections and referenda.” As leaders of the Council, Presidents Will Slocum and Kate Ervin have performed miserably in this regard.
The most egregious failures on the part of College Council were ones of publicity. College Council bylaws stipulate that “the debate must be publicized by the current Co-Presidents (or President/Vice President) for at least three days prior to the debate.” This is a clause of vital importance: students need reasonable notification of events to consider attending, and three days worth of rigorous publicity should be a bare minimum. Frankly, it is also a rather simple qualification to meet.
Still, as of Sunday mid-afternoon, the only official College Council publicity came in the form of a terse message on the organization’s web site. An all-campus e-mail from Ervin arrived shortly before dinnertime, only after candidate Reed Wiedower (in the interest of full disclosure, a former Record editor) had sent a private all-campus e-mail himself. At no point was the event publicized through important media such as posters or SU box mailings.
To make matters even worse, Ervin and Slocum clearly put little thought into the execution of the debate itself. There were logistical problems. Not provided with microphones, the candidates were often barely audible even to those spectators sitting closest to the stage. There were semantic problems. Disruptions were caused by blameless students (and pizza deliverers) not aware of the event. Most galling of all, there were severe procedural problems. Ervin’s nonchalant moderation fluctuated wildly: one minute, candidates were allowed rebuttal periods, the next they were not.
The result of this planning (or utter lack thereof) was a debate that was not particularly productive or meaningful. This was not for lack of intellectual grist: this election is unique in featuring two pairs of presidential candidates with nearly dichotomous perspectives on governance. The contrasts between, for example, Wiedower’s support of more “extreme” forms of activism (e.g. sit-ins) and the Leatherman/Kirtane ticket’s model of administration-friendly activism are intrinsically important. However, too few people are aware of these contrasts.
The debate itself, of course, is not the only avenue for discussion of issues. Crucially important is the distribution of the candidates packet, which provides Williams voters with statements from the candidates about their platforms. It is imperative that these packets be distributed in due time, preferably before the debate. Students not only deserve but also need the time to examine carefully the words of the candidates in order to make informed decisions.
Yet the candidates packet arrived in SU boxes yesterday afternoon, one day before the elections. Students who checked their mail Monday morning might not even find the packet before they vote. This is absolutely inexcusable. The effort it takes to get the packet out in a timely manner is minimal when compared to the dangerous and far-reaching repercussions of an uneducated electorate.
With these examples in mind, it is no wonder that many students do not even take the minute or so it needed to vote. With their thoroughly uninspired efforts, the Council presidents have sent a message that, though tacit, rings out loud and clear: the elections are not even important enough for us to get our act together; why should you bother? With their negligence in publicizing the nomination process, our Presidents implied that active involvement in the College Council elections is unnecessary. With their poor organization of post-nomination publicity, they have implied that even passive involvement is eminently disposable. The process, the council, and the campus deserve better.