Student leaders elected in runoff

By Middlebury Campus

Riley O’Rourke ’12 will return to serve his second term as President of the SGA for the 2011-12 academic year while Janet Rodrigues ’12 will assume the position of student co-chair of Community Council (SCOCC).

O’Rourke secured his position by 15 votes after a contentious race that ended in a run-off between himself and opponent Dane Verret ’12. O’Rourke believes that the increase in student participation this year — with almost a 40 percent turnout for the runoff — reflects the effectiveness of the College’s voting system.

Verret, however, believes that the SGA remains disconnected from the student body.

“I won’t say it was a poor turnout, but it’s why a lot of students were apathetic,” said Verret.

Verret referenced the revisions in bylaws that took place on May 1 in response to an email that Matt George ’12, O’Rourke’s transportation director, sent during the campaigns using his access to the all-student email list. The email described improvements in transportation under the O’Rourke presidency.

According Sophomore Senator Tony Huynh ’13, the SGA determined that George’s email did not breach regulation because it “was only a reflection of his personal opinion and was not meant to represent the voice of the student government,” Huynh wrote in an email. “Additionally, O’Rourke stated that George sent the e-mail without his consent and/or knowledge.

“Due to the combination of a lack of precedent on this issue and ambiguous election campaign rules, the SGA members unanimously decided that O’Rourke was at no fault for the email sent by George,” added Huynh.

In response to the email, Verret says, “It was definitely unfair since I don’t have access to those resources. But there was no rule in place so it came off as fair. It couldn’t be fixed.”

Verret called for a new law to prohibit incumbent candidates from accessing SGA resources, particularly the all school email list, during the campaign process.

In addition to George’s email, several threads cropped up on Middlebury Confessional during the election, slandering Verret’s character. Although the posts have now been removed from the website, it caused Verret to lose faith in the SGA.

“If you are disorganized and you let your candidates get attacked through different media forms, if you let your current administration affect or negatively affect the campaigning process, it makes you look really bad, and these are our elected officials — the people that need to change it the most,” said Verret.

O’Rourke acknowledged that the contacts he has made during his year in office helped his campaign, but added that students at the College recognize an effective leader.

“I set goals and accomplished them this year,” said O’Rourke. “I now know the people to talk to and understand the system, so the SGA can bring about change more efficiently.”

Though O’Rourke believes the process would benefit from a candidate debate, he still believes in the current system.

“There are regulations in place which I think work and the close result reflects this,” said O’Rourke.

After achieving his major campaign goal from last year — dramatically reducing airport transportation costs — O’Rourke said he will turn his attention to “establishing a small ‘micro-gym’ in Ross [and] implementing a pass/ fail option for certain, non major classes.”

O’Rourke explained that previous governments have failed to achieve the establishment of pass/fail classes because some professors worried it might “reduce the value of education.” He aims to tailor the policy to avoid this effect by requiring students to declare their intention to take a class pass/fail before beginning the course.

Reflecting on his experiences from the current academic year, O’Rourke intends to make himself more present on campus. He will hold more office hours in an effort to incorporate a wider range of student interests into his policy decisions.

“An advantage of serving a small student body,” said O’Rourke, “is the ability to respond to the desires of specific students, even if their ideas do not benefit the entire campus.”

Despite losing the election, Verret will continue with his aim of encouraging diversity on campus.

“I’m going to try and achieve my goals with my more limited resources,” said Verret.

Rodrigues, matching O’Rourke in enthusiasm, hopes to use her role to empower her team rather than to advance her own agenda.

“What I’m most excited for is just seeing a group of people come to a decision as a group and not necessarily feeling like I need to play a major role anymore,” said Rodrigues. “I think that’s the nicest part — just having faith in the people I have brought to the table.”

Although Rodriguez is excited to work with others, she maintains allegiance to her campaign agenda. Aside from addressing her major campaign concerns of dish loss, dorm damage and campus vandalism, Rodriguez wishes to confront socio-economic issues at the College.

“I definitely want to streamline how we address book lists and I want to think about study abroad programs,” said Rodrigues.

Although Rodrigues says that she owes her success to her involvement with and knowledge of campus concerns, she admits that she has some qualms with campaigning.

“I know some people value that this position is elected, but perhaps in the future we should pick someone that we as members of the council have seen perform well,” she said. “Also, Community Council is not and will never be about the co-chair, so it seems incompatible with elections.”

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