O, University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Your organization is the gift that keeps giving, and losing relevance. In my first year as a student at UConn and reporter for the Daily Campus, you – specifically former President Mark Sargent and his onetime henchman Kevin Alvarez – gave me my promotion by working to disqualify Carlyle Bethel from the USG election. How juicy! Alas, USG’s tendency to bring opponents to court is a harmful trend that I enabled with my breathless reporting. I regret it, but in my defense, I was mostly unaware of USG’s history of scandal, manufactured or otherwise.
And so it goes. Once again, USG candidates have managed to make it to court. The kicker this time? The student body is totally unaware of the election results. This is unprecedented. Each year, the Daily Campus learns the USG winners and losers the night the polls close.
You’ll notice the hypocrisy come the close of election hearings. The candidates try to convince their constituents, less than 20 percent of whom actually vote, that they’re working to put an end to this corrupt, careerist practice of attempting to disqualify their opponents. This consistent buffoonery – this perpetual pettiness – is why no one takes you seriously. You have Sargent and Alvarez after winning the election: “Over the past three or four years, every [presidential] election has ended in a judiciary case,” Sargent said. “That is something we are working to avoid this year.”
It was avoided because, in the single development that could be registered as worse than USG’s track record of having their judiciary decide elections rather than voters, Rachel Conboy ran uncontested and won.
Alvarez bemoaned races being decided by “very minor rules violations,” the same Alvarez who once deftly exploited said violations.
This year, you have Andrew Stern and Irma Valverde, two candidates for president who scoffed at the idea that their motives were anything but pure in bringing charges against each other in front of the USG judiciary.
Stern and Gopal, who filed charges after learning Valverde had done so at the last minute, and then, after being found in violation and forced to forfeit 29 of their votes, appealed the decision, alluded to USG’s shameful history: “Each of these charges…are a reflection of the same nonsense that has plagued our elections process every year since before any of us attended UConn,” Stern said.
But hey! They were only kidding around, guys. At least, that’s what they said during the hearing. You see, they were making a point by accusing Valverde of violations, that’s all. In the words of Stern: “[Our charges against Valverde] are inherently petty, just as hers were against us.” Nailed it.
Valverde, who said she didn’t want to file against her opponents, also added, according to the Daily Campus, that she “feels Stern’s campaign wasted her time, as well as the USG’s judiciary’s time.”
Attention USG: You’re wasting everybody’s time.
USG’s most glaring problem come election time is its incestuous nature. There’s a lot of talk about separation of powers, but when it comes down to it, members of the judiciary may be former senators or committee chairs. Things like branches of government and ethics may matter not when a resume is at stake.
Therefore, USG must get rid of their judiciary, because that’s what it is, their judiciary. What there should be instead is an independent commission – and not the Elections Oversight Committee – that handles complaints and is more prudent in taking cases where candidates charge each other. It has gotten to the point where no one cares if Stern and Gopal slandered Valverde while campaigning, or if Valverde campaigned illegally, because an accusation from a USG candidate has become a wolf cry. This has been happening for years; it was Stern and Valverde’s turn to join the fun.
The question is, are there students outside of USG’s sphere of influence who care enough to police the organization? I hope so. I hope so because last year, Stephanie Sponzo and Haddiyyah Ali were penalized on ridiculous charges, hampering their campaign from the outset. The complainant? Current USG President Dan Byrd. I hope so because student government is capable of positive action, as evidenced by their support for undocumented students and their efforts at cheapening textbooks, among other initiatives.
Each election season, USG cheapens itself. Perhaps, one day, campaigns will be civil and the winner will be left up to students but if nothing changes, I wouldn’t expect a different outcome.
Sten Spinella is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.