From the Archives: Time to repair ASG elections from April 12, 2005

There I was at Kellogg’s 18th annual Black Management Association Conference on Saturday, listening to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama opine on what’s wrong with American politics.

“People talk about how the quality of the debate in this country has dropped,” Obama told a group of future black leaders. “Well, that’s not the only problem. We’re also not debating the right issues.” And then it hit me.

Standing in a lecture hall at the James L. Allen Center, the great black hope of the Democratic Party also diagnosed what’s wrong with Associated Student Government at Northwestern.

We’ve seen the fliers where “Lord Praj” becomes impregnated by Searle Student Health Service and Patrick Keenan-Devlin tries to be Rico Suave-Cool with his call to support “P.K. Diddy 4 ASG Prez.” But when realistically discussing The Big Issues We All Must Face, these current candidates spend too much time dealing with crackpot proposals that will never become university policy.

If the schoolyard antics on display at Thursday night’s debate between presidential and executive vice presidential candidates were any indication, this year’s election has been marred by the politics of personal destruction – a vice alive and well among NU’s would-be student leaders, as endorsements by the Progressive Alliance rightly cautioned.

In the past year, ASG has been rocked by financial scandal, accusations of secrecy and Andy Kaufman. Kaufman’s joke of a campaign in 2004 against ASG President Jane Lee probably inspired this year’s runs by Vishal Patel, Rahul Kalita and Brandon Conrad – all “outsiders” clearly sick of internal squabbling. These students’ goal-oriented platforms would have energized the race for the unpopular position of student services vice president – for the second time in three years the SSVP race is uncontested.

Then we have Prajwal Ciryam, the ASG doyen by virtue of his two milquetoast terms as academic vice president, who traded the chance to begin medical school early (he’s in NU’s Honors Program in Medical Education) for a one-in-six shot at being the student body’s titular leader. The pre-medical Ciryam’s panacea for NU is “Government with Teeth” – a hollow promise, given that whenever ASG leads, few students seem willing to follow.

The only presidential candidates who have caught on that ASG is broken and needs serious fixin’ are Keenan-Devlin and Ketica Guter. Even more notably, the people who possess the greatest hope of reforming ASG – Executive Vice President Howard W. Buffett and Student Services Vice President Alexander Lurie – decided to sit out this election.

Lurie actually has an idea that, if implemented, might prevent elections from devolving. What if candidates for the four elected positions ran as a slate?”The quality of discussion and genuineness will be augmented if we can have candidates who come in with a team attitude,” Lurie told me. “Between the candidates (this year), there’s probably 80 proposals. It’s almost like quantity over quality.”

Neither Jay Schumacher nor Whitney Gretz – the solo contenders for the two important posts Buffett and Lurie, respectively, are vacating – inspire much confidence, as there are no opponents to which students can compare them to. My hope is that today students write-in more Respectable Candidates for both the EVP and SSVP races.

Barack Obama got it right when he told conference attendees Saturday that politicians who twist reality to fit their ideology often find themselves unpleasantly surprised in the long run.

“Reality’s a bitch,” Obama said.

Unless the victors in today’s elections face reality – that ASG is a broken institution in which students have little faith – and more importantly work together to fix the organization, they can kiss goodbye any chance of their newly won posts being anything more than entries on a resume.

– Jerome C. PandellWeinberg ’05Former Daily managing editor and columnist