For this week’s column, I have a peculiar story to share. I’ve done my fair amount of research on UConn’s different student government organizations’ histories, and my research this week led me to the Spring 1972 Associated Student Government (USG’s predecessor’s predecessor) Presidential Election. What initially may have seemed to be a mundane changing of hands, as only one President/Vice President ticket was on the ballot, turned out to be UConn’s most confusion-ridden student election to date.
The Associated Student Government had a long lifespan, lasting 52 years. For context, the second-longest tenured student government is the current USG, which still needs 12 more years to break the record. While ASG had lasted for over half a century, it was not without its problems. For starters, one of the main concerns its critics raised was the fact that an organization that only got a fraction of the student body to vote for it couldn’t possibly act as a representative of the whole. A more specific critique of the 1972 election is that only one candidate team was featured on the ballot: Dave Kaplan for president and Melanie Deitch for vice president. Kaplan and Deitch were set up to win the election without having to win the favor of the students they would be representing, and the only other candidate, Thomas Ruby, had been barred from the ballot due to a rule that only allowed senators to run. Ruby continued his campaigning, however, urging people to write him in.
Now that Kaplan, Deitch and Ruby have been introduced, it’s time to bring in the hero of this story: William “Bill” X. Carlson. Carlson was a long shot write-in candidate, with one catch: He didn’t exist.
Created as a hoax to prove that the student elections didn’t actually reflect the wishes of the student body, Carlson began to pick up steam, and the idea took off as a form of no-confidence vote for the entirety of ASG. By the time elections came around, Carlson had received endorsements from many major organizations at UConn, including WHUS, Nutmeg, the Inter-Fraternity Council, the Inter-Area Residence Hall council, Associated Student Commissaries, Thomas Ruby’s campaign and last but not least, the Connecticut Daily Campus.
Quoting from the editorial titled “Carlson: Symbol of ‘no confidence” written by the Daily Campus’ board on March 13, 1972, a day before the election, “The Daily Campus urges students to write-in the name ‘Bill X. Carlson’ for ASG president and ‘Bill X. Carlson’ for ASG vice-president. We do so because this is our only alternative for a more responsive and more representative government. It is our only opportunity to register distrust and disgust of the ASG. It is our only opportunity to change the government.”
Two days after the election, the votes were in, and Bill X. Carlson had been elected President of the Associated Student Government … except he wasn’t. Yes, he secured a plurality of the votes with over 1,600 for president and over 800 for vice president, but Kaplan and Deitch were sworn in anyway due to the fact that Carlson didn’t exist. Nonetheless, the Carlson election had serious ramifications, as conversations about government overhaul began afterward, leading to Kaplan resigning a few months into his presidency and the entire ASG being dissolved by the end of spring 1973.
Throughout the whole event, ASG personnel attempted to frame the Daily Campus as the orchestrator of the Carlson hoax. A Daily Campus editorial after the election stated “They are pointing to the Daily Campus as the villainous architect of a shady conspiracy to discredit the ASG,” and that’s simply not what this was. First off, the proud creators of Carlson, Barry Berman and William Faraclas, were more than happy to take credit, as they did in a letter to the editor. Secondly, if ASG had truly cared about the betterment of the student experience at UConn, they would have welcomed the participation in the process that Carlson brought. To this day, Carlson’s 1,614 votes for president would win the election easily, as the problem of student government failing to reach a large portion of the population has not waned in the slightest.
Carlson is the ultimate symbol of the students asking the simple question of whether or not student leaders serve themselves or their constituents, and in 1972, ASG answered that question incorrectly.