Despite Trustee decision, election draws little interest

by Brad Russo | 4/13/99 5:00am

The activist atmosphere on campus created by the Trustees' controversial social life initiative has had several far reaching effects -- including the cancellation of all Winter Carnival parties and the delay of a decision on door locks -- but one area which has yet to see that influence is Student Assembly elections.

Many campus leaders had once thought the Greek issue would be the trigger to reverse the tide of dwindling interest and involvement in the Assembly and its races. But so far, that has failed to happen -- few students showed up to last night's Speech Night and even Assembly President Josh Green '00 called the campaigning "low key."

While some leaders, affiliated and unaffiliated alike, expected a dominating Greek figure to run for president and rule the race, rallying students on a single-issue platform of opposing the Trustees' Five Principles for social reform, the three serious candidates are all Assembly insiders. No affiliated Assembly outsider appears on the ballot and only Psi Upsilon fraternity Secretary Drew Pluhar '00 is actively mounting a write-in campaign.

The dominance of "The Greek Issue" has been so absent in the race that contender Tom Leatherbee '01 did not even mention the controversy once in a 400-word-plus platform and few students seem interested or even aware of the candidates and their platforms.

So why has interest in the election not materialized again this year despite the current climate on campus? Some students familiar with the Assembly and the election process say it has much to do with both the current College administration and the Assembly itself.

"With this administration I don't think you can accomplish much on big issues," 1998 Assembly presidential candidate Dan Rygorsky '99 said. "Most people don't think the Assembly can do much on this issue."

Rygorsky campaigned last year on a platform of smaller, student service-oriented projects and urged the Assembly to return to that type of emphasis rather than its current, issue-focused agenda.

He said he does not think "Greeks will mobilize behind" the elections because they do not view the Assembly as "a viable option" for opposing the changes to the Greek system.

Former Assembly Vice-President James Gallo '99 said "there might have been more members of the [Coed Fraternity Sorority] system running because of the Five Principles," but also believes there are other reasons behind the lack of candidates in the field.

"I think members of the Greek system saw how frustrating it is being president of the SA and thought they could focus their initiative efforts on their houses and their alumni," Gallo said.

Psi Upsilon fraternity President Teddy Rice '00, who considered running for president and was pressured to do so by many in the community, said he decided against entering because of previous time commitments.

"Given what I've seen of the Student Assembly, they've given me no reason to believe what they do makes a difference," Rice said but added, "I don't think it's all their fault," saying the College has shown they are unwilling to listen to student opinions on the matter.

Another Greek leader who considered entering the race, Chi Heorot fraternity President Sean Maduck '00, said he too did not have enough time to give to the Assembly and for that reason decided against seeking the presidency.

"I think it's important to have somebody with a Greek background in there, but the leaders in the Greek houses who are carrying the torch against the initiative have their own responsibilities," Maduck said.

"I thought it would be the one issue they would be concentrating on and it's not to the extent I thought it would be," Gallo said. "I think two of the candidates, Krishna and Leatherbee, who are SA insiders realize it's going to be a difficult fight and they don't want to set unrealistic goals for next year ... the Trustees are committed to these principles."

Green, who has presided over the announcement and immediate aftermath of the Trustees' announcement, said he thinks the diminished impact of the Greek issue is due to the timetable for change.

"I think that there's a recognition that next year isn't going to be just about the Greek system. I personally wonder what kind of impact the president can have on the Greek system," Green said, since the student input phase of the initiative process is scheduled to conclude at the end of this term.

"These candidates run and it's not clear what they'll be dealing with," Green said. "You look at last year and Dan Rygorsky was the one talking about the Greek system, not me."

The one person consistently talking about the Greek controversy is Pluhar. While he formally entered the race only yesterday, he promises to mount a full campaign -- with the preservation of the Greek system and the Five Principles as his number one issue.

Whether or not the Pluhar candidacy, and his Greek agenda, take off as promised, most leaders agree that at least the ripple effects of the Trustees' shocking announcement -- the desire for more student involvement in College decision making and changes in the Assembly -- will be felt.

"I think partially what's come out in the past week or so is the lack of student voice in the College, and that's one of the big overall issues with the Trustee announcement," Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity President Andy Louis '00 said, adding the Greek issue "may be the thing that will break one of the candidates away from the other three."

"I couldn't believe Leatherbee didn't write about it," Rice said of the lack of Greek references in the candidate's platform. "That's just remarkable. In some ways that's reflective of what I think of the Student Assembly. The Student Assembly doesn't advocate student opinions."

Maduck said he expects to see more Greek voters participate in the election this year because of the campus controversy. "In the past the Student Assembly was one side of campus and the Greeks were the other and there wasn't much crossover. I think that's changing."

Whether that crossover happens, and how much effect it will have, remains to be seen.