When I opened my SU box on the first day of the College Council elections last week, I was shocked to find a letter from the College Council Co-Presidents Kate Ervin ’99 and Will Slocum ’99. Their strongly worded letter alleged that Reed Wiedower ’00, candidate for “everything,” had misrepresented the facts in his campaign flyers and had even used illegal means to obtain those facts. These sweeping accusations – false and inconsistent with the CC Co-Presidents’ roles as objective election officials – directly compromised the integrity of this year’s elections.
The core problem with this letter is that while its self-stated goal was to provide the student body with the truth, it contained crucial false information. One of the more serious accusations made by Ervin and Slocum was that the figures about Goodrich Hall’s fall finances had been stolen. The letter claimed that not only were many of the monetary figures on Wiedower’s campaign posters incorrect, but also that “the data regarding the Goodrich budgets and managerial salaries was stolen from a manager’s personal files.” While not explicitly stated, the clear implication was that Wiedower had somehow procured his figures through illegal means. Ervin and Slocum felt so strongly about this “fact,” that they felt the need to underline the word “stolen” in their letter. In reality, the files were not stolen, but were left by a Goodrich manager in public areas both in paper and electronic form (on a computer server publicly accessible to all Record staff) for the entire fall semester. The data was easily accessible to everyone involved in the day-to-day operations of the Record from the Editor in Chief (Wiedower) all the way down to the layout staffers who used the public server regularly.
At the College Council meeting on Wednesday, March 10th, it became clear that the accusations of theft by Slocum and Ervin were made on assumptions that, since the documents had been held in a confidential group (the Goodrich Committee), the monetary figures could have gotten into Wiedower’s campaign materials only if they had been stolen. This conclusion seems to me a very big stretch because the data was left in a public place for months before the campaigning began and was known by many parties outside the Goodrich Committee. I cannot find good cause to implicate Wiedower’s actions as criminal.
The letter that Ervin and Slocum wrote came out on College Council stationary, “on behalf of the College Council.” Besides the fact that the rest of the Council was NOT contacted or consulted about the authoring of the letter, the authority that comes from writing the letter on CC stationary, as the CC Co-Presidents, creates a severe conflict of interest. While the CC Constitution and Bylaws do not explicitly prohibit the Co-Presidents from campaigning for or endorsing any particular ticket, it does spell out in detail their responsibility to oversee the election process.
In composing what was essentially an anti-Wiedower propaganda piece, they threw the entire weight of their elected office behind the facts that they asserted. Since they were the people responsible for running the elections, what student should doubt the facts that they asserted? It becomes too difficult for students to distinguish between official election material (such as the candidates packet that was distributed the previous day) and a personal letter, disguised as official CC business.
Also disturbing is that the CC Bylaws explicitly restrict any campaign materials in polling places on election days, but the letter, which was essentially free propaganda for the opposing tickets, was distributed to students mere yards away from the polling place. I would not object to a privately funded letter from Ervin and Slocum as concerned students, distributed outside of Baxter Hall, or in the form of a letter to the Record expressing their concerns. By using the power of their office to express their feelings about Wiedower, however, they blurred the lines between objective election officiating and election manipulation.
It’s also clear from the tone of the letter that Ervin and Slocum were themselves unable to separate their personal feelings towards Wiedower from their attempts to disseminate the truth to the student body. In the first paragraph of their letter they say that Wiedower published “false and incomplete information on his campaign material in hopes to beguile the student body and promote his own interests.” (emphasis added) This statement is strongly opinionated and personally directed and conflicts with Ervin’s and Slocum’s claim that they were issuing a mere clarification of the facts. If their letter had been an innocent information piece to get the facts straight, then it would have been completely neutral on the issues of intent and character and would have provided just the plain, unbiased facts to the student body. This letter was not just a statement of facts, but a piece of propaganda that affected the votes of many students.
The direct result of the accusations made in the letter was that Wiedower’s campaign was a flop and he was not elected to a single position. While it’s impossible to say now what might have happened if the letter had not been written, it is clear that the letter, which came out on the first day that students could vote, had only adverse effects on Wiedower’s bid for office.
At the College Council meeting last week, Nishant Nayyar ’02 stated that while working the polls that day, he directly overheard students going to their SU Boxes, reading the letter and discussing its contents. This letter, according to Nayyar, may have influenced students’ voting decisions.
The election should have been about the students making educated choices in electing their leaders for next year. The student body should have been educated about the candidates and the issues through the usual channels, NOT by the out-going CC Co-Presidents. Doesn’t it disturb anyone else that the election for our College Council was profoundly influenced by two people who won’t even be part of the student body next year?
So far, the debate over this issue has been muted on campus. At the CC meeting last Wednesday, discussion of this controversy was cut short by time restrictions and key points (mainly that Wiedower did not steal the files) failed to get into the secretary’s minutes. Two members of CC moved to nullify the election results, only to have that motion dismissed by the officers because CC does not have that power â€“ it is able only to disband itself. What is to be done now? Some concrete resolution must be made by CC or by the students to deal with all of these issues and to find a fair ending to this mess. Whether it’s disbanding the College Council to elect a new one, or somehow making retribution for the personal attack on Wiedower that collapsed his campaign, these issues cannot go unanswered. Let’s not make this another case of student apathy by allowing this controversy to slink into the past unnoticed.