If you thought the national contest for the Republican presidential nomination was a circus, take a quick gander at student politics at the University of Oregon. “Secret” marriages? We’ve got those. Email phishing from opposing campaigns? There’s some of that, too. Secret monetary contributions? Let’s just say Stephen Colbert and John Stewart’s Super PAC may have been more legitimate than the way last year’s winning ASUO executive race was partially funded.
At least on the national stage you’ve got three or four guys and gals whose ridiculous platforms and shenanigans you could shrug off as mere “controversial” coverage fodder for the 24-hour news networks. Remember Michele Bachmann’s crazy eyes? It’d be nice to say something so inconsequential is what was laughable about ASUO politics these days.
Unfortunately that’s not the case, not by a long shot.
Over the last six months or so, details emerged about current ASUO Vice President Katie Taylor’s personal and public life that have given students reason to look down on an aspect of university life that already gets little attention.
Of course, why should anyone care about student government politics? After all, it’s not like they have much of a bearing outside of the university community or impact much outside a few dollars’ worth of incidental fees per student, right?
Well, the budget for the Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee alone had allocated nearly $3.75 million for the 2011-2012 academic year. That’s a pretty big chunk of change. It’s also where the Oregon Students Public Interest Group gets its funding. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the most beneficial or useless line item in the ASUO budget.
It’s also the organization that acts as the center of this exhausting web that’s been spun over the last year. Between Taylor’s undisclosed marriage to Charles Denson, former chairman of the university chapter of the organization and his secret contributions to her campaign last year, there was enough to cast a shade of suspicion on the current campaign.
Sure, there may not have been wrongdoing technically, but why the secrecy? Some would argue that what these folks do on their time is their own business, but I don’t buy it. Student reporters working for any publication within the School of Journalism and Communication are required to stick to journalistic ethics. Baristas at every café on campus treat customers as they would if they were employed by a “real” coffee shop.
So why should members of student government be exempt from the same expectations we have for elected officials at any other level? Nobody else gets a free pass. And once you step on a stage and ask for anyone’s vote, every aspect of your life has bearing on how you’re viewed as an officer of the electorate. If that claim seems a bit harsh, keep in mind that just one of the ASUO’s committees has a say in how nearly $3.75 million in student incidental fees is spent. Again, it’s not chump change by any means.
The problem here is too few people care. Not many folks voiced concerns about the fact that Denson admitted to tampering with campaigns opposite his wife’s in an attempt to steal phone numbers and votes. By the way, if you’re willing to play this dirty to influence a student government election—really focus on that entire phrase—it’s probably time to re-evaluate a few priorities.
The events that transpired around ASUO politics over the last six months are, to say the least, a complete and total embarrassment to the already neglected establishment we’ve come to know as student government. Few people have a reason to take these elected officials seriously and these shenanigans—from the secret marriage to the phishing scam and everything in between—prove the old axiom that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
It also sends the message that this is acceptable behavior from elected officials of any other level. After all, most if not all student jobs on campus are meant to prepare their participants for similar positions upon graduation. How would a city mayor or state representative be impacted if they were to behave in a manner their constituents didn’t care for?
So the news that the Katie and Alex campaign has been disqualified from the ASUO executive race is refreshing. Heck, now that it’s been determined that the phishing scam Denson admitted to spearheading was legitimately illegal, there may be criminal charges levied against the guy.
It’s unfortunate that all of this had to happen the way it did, but it at least proves that someone out there is taking student government seriously in the right way.