Congratulations to Andrew Nu?ez on your election to the position of President of the Tufts Community Union Senate! Or congratulations to Robert Joseph on your election as president! I’m very sorry despite reading everything I could, I still can’t discern the differences between you.
Unfortunately, I was not the only one. This election season at Tufts, students were faced with a decision between two candidates that many even the Tufts Daily felt were oddly similar on almost every issue. Indeed, in its editorial endorsing Robert Joseph, the Daily could only discriminate between the two on the issue of “leadership style,” an amorphous quality that also happens to distinguish Francis Underwood from Dick Cheney.
Students noticed this lack of choice: the Generic Candidate web persona (with which I am not affiliated) and the “ABSTAIN” posters were direct and negative reactions to the feeling of “politics as usual” at Tufts.
The lack of choice that we experienced this year is not an anomaly. Never in my four years at Tufts have I met two presidential candidates who differed substantively on important issues. Discounting the possibility that Tufts is a homogenous enclave of unoriginal ideas where everyone agrees with everyone else, one has to ask: why don’t we see more ideological options in the elections?
The answer has two parts. The first is that the nominating process is designed to stifle dissent and unpopular views. In order to be nominated to run for TCU Senate President, a student must first be a senator. The TCU Senate has a very high incumbency rate (I am unable to tell you exactly what it is because the Elections Commission, which is charged with keeping records on these sorts of things, does not keep records on these sorts of things). Think of how many incumbent senators you know who have been defeated in an election. Is the number zero? It is for me, too. Requiring candidates to be senators makes a kind of sense you would want someone with experience in Senate to be running the place but it also excludes all other students, including those who disapprove of Senate’s leadership.
However, if a student who wanted to radically reform TCU ever made it into office, they would be faced with a second hurdle: all candidates for the presidency must first be confirmed by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. This practically guarantees that Senate can keep running “business as usual” and allows only the most milquetoast candidates to even make the ballot. The lesson for prospective presidents is clear: appeal to the lowest common denominator, or be sidelined.
The second part is that the candidates have no real issues over which to argue. TCU Senate is, for all its bluster, very limited in its power. Of the eleven resolutions listed on the Senate website, a whopping “one” has actually led to a change in university policy: the (recently scaled-back) decision to expand late-night dining in the Commons. However, a cursory search of the Tufts Daily archives reveals that students have actually been clamoring for more options after the dining halls close since at least 2009. Senate’s November 2013 resolution was simply the latest in a long line of baby steps.
Both Robert Joseph and Andrew Nu?ez ran on platforms that emphasized issues that are already part of the Tufts political canon: diversity, financial aid, more special interest group representatives on Senate. These issues and others are ones over which the TCU Senate has very little, if any, direct control. The Trustees, the Bursar and the rest of the administration decide on tuition increases. Assistant deans (of which Tufts has far too many already) are hired on their merits, not their skin color. While it is within Senate’s purview to add representatives of “marginalized” groups to itself, I don’t see the point when it can hardly fill its existing elected positions. There is not a person on campus who does not believe that an improvement to the sexual assault policy is a good thing, and yet both candidates made it a central point of their campaign. Senate is not vested with enough power to make impactful decisions on meaningful issues, and so senators stick to what they know: inoffensive, widely accepted policies expressed in platitudes.
As a community, are we satisfied with an impotent Senate and presidential candidates who are afraid to take a stand? If you are, then do nothing. Embrace the status quo. If you are not, then allow me to offer an alternative. Senate needs reform. Senate needs to be pragmatic and to understand the restrictions inherent in student government. At the same time, Senate needs to advocate for itself and for the students it represents by calling for the powers of the Committee on Student Life (which really calls the shots on important issues, if you haven’t been paying attention) to be absorbed by Senate.
To cement this new authority, Senate’s bodies also require reform: the Allocations Board and Treasury should be made more transparent, impartial and effective in their dealings with student organizations; the Elections Commission requires a serious overhaul in order to meet its own standards. Finally, the restrictions on outside candidates in presidential elections should be repealed. If Tufts’ students are to be well-represented, they require a body that will fight for their rights and interests. That requires a healthy internal debate, but at present Senate seems concerned only with its own self-preservation.
That needs to change.
Evan Moulson is a senior majoring in economics. He can be reached at Evan.Moulson@tufts.edu.