The Selection Committee: One Big Popularity Contest?
The selection committee election process started two years ago. I’m sure most upperclassmen are unaware of it because so far it has only affected freshmen and sophomores. The committee is basically a group of student volunteers that meet to decide who becomes a part of SFDC or class co-presidency (in the future, senate may be decided by selection committee too). The committee judges the nominees on desirable qualities that the grade has determined in a class meeting. Through brutal Quaker process, the committee goes through the possible student leaders, saying only positive things about them, and decides who will become a student government leader and who will not. I fear this new system is actually much more of a popularity contest than the original ballot system, which was in itself flawed as well. I find the whole idea rather abhorrent. For one thing, the process hinders the ability of new kids to run. It enables people to flood the committee with their friends. New, shy, or contrarian kids might not feel comfortable presenting themselves as candidates. Nearly all campaigning has been taken away. I believe it is a critical error to take away the speeches. “It seemed like some of the nominees took the time for giving speeches as a time to make a comedy routine” Ms. Schmaljohn told me. “They didn’t take it seriously and it was really disappointing when the student body would elect them and they wouldn’t do anything”. Speeches are the only opportunity nominees for student government really have to address the grade as a whole. Two years ago a new freshman girl ran for class co-president and won. This year a new freshman girl ran and was almost immediately eliminated because the committee didn’t know her very well and thus, had few good qualities to list about her. I’m not even blaming the committee for being unfair, how much could they know about a person who had only been attending our school for a month or two? The new system creates this problem by design.
Anyone can join the committee. Prospective members may have to briefly explain why they’re interested, but otherwise there’s no real qualifications a person needs to meet. This begs the question though, who wants to spend their free time and their energy by being a part of the committee? Two kinds: the people who care, and the people who care because one of their friends is in the running. Ultimately the selection committee is an insult to the student body as whole. What it says is “we don’t think the majority of you are capable of participating in thoughtful and meaningful discussion about student government”. But I don’t blame the administration or the school for trying to change an imperfect system. I blame the majority of students who just sit there and accept it and take it.
My speculation isn’t completely baseless. I’ve talked to some of the former committee members and they all admit there was bias. Though apparently the group was able to detect this unfairness and try their best to curb its influence on the process one of the committee members told me “It was clear that there was a group there that were all friends with one of the people running. But we had another group of kids that knew what was going on and did their best to work against it”. Despite their efforts, it was clear the bias affected the group in at least a small way. “Some of the candidates that were the last to be eliminated were the ones who had a lot of friends in the group. I don’t think they would’ve made it as far without them”.
From what I’ve heard and observed, its’ the kids with the most connections, who are the most outgoing, and are in the best standing with people, that have the best chance in the selection committee. This isn’t too different from the old system, but the selection committee is incredibly vulnerable to compromised integrity and I think for that alone it should be done away with. The student government system as a whole is still a work in progress. Already there has been a great improvement. Where possible, the whole grade will be involved in choosing the leaders themselves instead of having an isolated committee. While this will no doubt also increase the inanity, tedium, and all-in-all uselessness that make up the majority of people’s opinions exponentially, it will at least make it fairer by making sure everyone has the chance to let their voice be heard. The attempts to create a more serious and thoughtful election process have worked to some extent. And I think any nominees that were chosen are probably fine for the job. But I can’t say that I think the system is fair. The addition of voting helps alleviate a lot of that, but only if the voting is done right. The old system allowed for anyone with the smallest plurality of votes to win. Clearly alternative voting systems could be a great option for the future. Automatic run-off voting has voters ranking their favorites. Everyone’s first choice gets their vote, once initial votes are tallied, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped, and all the people that voted for him or her then have their votes go to their number two. Why such an easy way to at least temporarily try to improve the voting process was overlooked is beyond me. Unfortunately for current freshman class, despite the decision to expand the system to a full grade ballot for other classes, there is some talk of keeping the selection committee, but eliminating teacher facilitation of the discussion. While I support having student facilitate the discussion, I, and a number of nominees and members of the selection committee that I talked to, would definitely prefer the conclusiveness of voting. At the end of the day, it’s up to students to let their voices be heard. I can’t believe there are people who out there who would so easily give up their right to vote to let others speak for them. I also think that when people do have the power to express their opinions, they also have responsibility for their choices. If an inappropriate nominee becomes a part of the student government, I don’t think it’s the school’s place to say that there needs to be a change in the system. I also think that the only inappropriate candidate that could be chosen is someone who isn’t always representing the interests of students. Even the least serious and most lazy members of student government can still be considered good members if they’re always standing up for students. I’ve only seen a few actually “bad” members and they tend to only be in for one year until someone else is voted in.
Sometime ago I was talking to my friend Will Pisano on the Italy trip. I asked him why he was always so confrontational and always arguing for more freedom on the trip. Why bother making the effort to fight rather than accept the hand we were dealt? All he told me was “You guys take too much *#@&. You don’t stand up for yourselves as much as you should”. Will loved to speak in absolutes, and if you ask his teachers, he may have gone by that modus operandi a bit too often. I can’t help but feel that in this case though, he might be right.