Student Council will vote tomorrow on a proposal from Hemang Kaul ’13, School President, to elect two School Co-Presidents in future elections.
The proposal, which originated in the Student Council Review Committee, would implement candidate-pairing during the election process but would not restrict the gender of either candidate.
A change in the structure of Student Council requires an amendment to the Student Government Constitution. Therefore, the proposal must be approved by a two-thirds majority in a vote by the council’s 15 members, with all members present and voting, in accordance with the Student Government Constitution, which was written in 2011.
Each member of Student Council will get one vote, except for the three Executive Board members. Kaul will receive six votes, Rolando Bonachea ’13, Vice President, will receive four, and MJ Engel ’13, Executive Secretary, will receive two.
If passed, the proposal would go into effect for the 2013-2014 election cycle that will begin this February, said Kaul. Under the proposed structure, two candidates would form a ticket at the beginning of the election process, campaign together and then serve together after winning the election.
Kaul said that having two School Presidents would help redefine the role and image of the presidency.
“In my experience being President, a lot of what is expected of me has been very much the speeches I give and basically the glamorous aspect of that. I think while communication with the students is extremely important, I don’t think that the School President’s position should be to entertain the students, which I feel has been my main expectation from students, and I think that in terms of effectiveness, in any job, two heads are better than one,” said Kaul.
“[With] two School Presidents, you are projecting the image of collaboration and presenting the idea that we take pride in collaboration and encourage it,” added Kaul.
The committee has yet to determine the logistics of the election process and the future structure of the Executive Board, should the proposal pass.
The idea of a co-presidency was brought forth also in part to address gender imbalance in the present structure of Student Council, as there have only been four female School Presidents since the Andover-Abbot merger in 1973. This year, four of the 15 members of Student Council are female. All of the females are Seniors.
The committee, however, decided not to mandate any gender regulation in the co-presidency, since the proposal will introduce more female candidates into the pool, even if two male or two female candidates were to win, said Engel.
“We thought it’d be inappropriate to mandate whom students should vote for based on gender, or based on other demographic factors as opposed to merit,” said Junius Williams ’14, an Upper Class Representative.
“We think that having Co-Presidents will address the gender imbalance issues because the co-candidates that are running will look to diversify and expand their constituent base and can do so best by choosing someone who appeals to a different base than they do—for example, a male and female pair will have influences across different spheres of campus life,” said Engel.
“You just need to look at the history of Student Council, and you’ll see exactly why we need this change. In the past, every single year in the election process, candidates have talked about how Student Council is ineffective and how they’re going to make it more effective, and this has been an issue for many, many years. Gender imbalance has also been an issue for many years, and this structural change is how we are finally addressing [both of] these issues,” she added.
Williams was the only member of the committee to vote against the proposal. Williams said that having Co-Presidents would remove a clearly identified, central student leader from the school.
“I think that transforming the role into a group position would sully the ability of the president to execute clear decisions. Singularity is not necessarily tied to tyranny and ruling with an iron fist, and having one president doesn’t necessarily exclude other voices from the process. We have a three[-member Executive Board], and that’s how it functions. The President happens to be at the top of that hierarchy, but other voices are not silenced,” said Williams.
He added that disagreements between the Co-Presidents might cause rifts in Student Council. “It could be the case that this doesn’t happen, but it’s often the case that it does. The worst case scenario would be that Student Council could face a crisis in legitimacy and order.”
Williams also said that he was concerned that if passed, the change would go into effect too soon, without allowing enough time for the student body to weigh in and provide feedback.
Engel said that her biggest fear about the change is an initial negative student reaction.
“[The reaction would be negative] not necessarily on the basis of a compelling argument, but as a negative reaction to change in general, and I fear that some students may not take the time to look at both sides, and may instead react instinctively, and their first reaction may not be well thought out,” she said.
Student Council currently consists of 15 members: the three Executive Board members, five Senior Cluster Representatives, three Uppers Reps, two Lower Reps, and two Juniors Reps,
The committee plans to write a detailed job description for the Co-Presidents by January 22, if the proposal passes, before the next election cycle begins.
“[We will] then also look into redesigning the rest of the council’s structure as well... As far as what we as a committee will be doing [after Student Council’s vote on the proposal], it depends on what ends up happening with this decision. You have to take it one step at a time,” said Tessa Peterson ’15, former Junior Rep and a member of the committee.
In their discussions about how to improve the effectiveness of Student Council, Engel said that the committee also considered maintaining the current structure of Student Council, as well as conducting ticket-based elections, in which one student would run for School President and appoint his or her own Vice President and Executive Secretary during the campaign process.
However, Peterson said, “[The ticket system] is still a tiered system, it doesn’t solve the problem of gender imbalance.”
“If the President is appointing, there’s still the worry that females won’t go for the top role, though they may be appointed. If the top role is [filled by] a male candidate and he chooses two females as his Vice President and Executive Secretary, the male’s still at the top, so that doesn’t solve the [gender] imbalance in the top leadership roles,” said Engel.
The Student Council Review Committee consists of Kaul, Engel, Williams, Peterson, Samuel Green ’13, Editor-in-Chief of The Phillipian, Jennifer Elliott, Dean of Abbot Cluster, Frank Tipton, Dean of West Quad North Cluster, Fernando Alonso, Advisor to Student Council, and Paul Murphy, Dean of Students. Becky Sykes, Associate Head of School, is an ex-officio member of the committee.
The committee was formed in order to evaluate the role and effectiveness of the current structure of Student Council. The committee is scheduled to meet until the end of the term and will continue to debate other issues about Student Council that will not affect next year’s presidential candidates, according to Engel.