Most days, we wake up to an inbox full of love and the occasional piece of knock-off Viagra spam [Ed note: On the other hand, our dick-sucking has lacked a certain zest lately]. But a few days ago, we received this magical screed. It’s written by esteemed former Ubyssey editor and Actual Real-Live Journalist Justin McElroy, who’s won a lot of awards—and a lot of hearts—for being superlatively great. He suggested we add some sparkly gifs (actual quote: “The Hunger Games are big with the youths these days, right?”), but we thought it was great as is. Laziness played no part in this decision.
If four years of covering UBC on a daily basis taught me anything, it’s that talking about student politician elections should be done with a heavy grain of skepticism. Every year, the same crop of eager young ones come forward with vague slogans, impossible goals and more guts than brains.
Not only that, but once upon a time AMS Elections were about (cue West Wing inspirational music) big issues. Big issues, with candidates on all sides of the political spectrum arguing for what they believe in. Who got elected really mattered, and while giant clusterfucks might happen, they were about tuition or student activism or something else which galvanized students to care.
The past two years, student political culture has turned soft, mushy, and predictable, with people afraid of trying anything or criticizing anyone. I don’t know if that has made things better or worse…but it’s certainly made things less exciting.
However, you have to choose the Leaders of Tomorrow—and I’m here to help. That, and take advantage of the fact that no longer running The Ubyssey means I can dispense with an insincere veneer of optimism, and rant like the curmudgeon I am.
But I’m here to mostly help! Plus, The Editor of this blog puts up with me drinking, yelling, and laughing with her roommate in the middle of the night, interrupting her sleep, so there’s that. [Ed note: Our walls are made of paper and spackled with my sleep-deprived tears. More after the jump.]
Where was I? Oh right, you aren’t fantastic, and neither are these candidates. Continuing!
Yes, the 21st century and Tumblr and TED Talks have taught you that life is wonderful, you are special, and your personal brand is unique and will help you reach new heights….but the people running are sweaty, ambitious student politicians, like all those before them. They’re hoping to be elected with little experience to a job that has no training, one which will end as soon as they get the hang of it.
As such, the promises they make are the same promises as people before them. The mistakes they make will be the same as their predecessors. And their successes will be in the same vein as other successes student leaders stumble into. Antelopes eat the grass, Circle of Life, etc. [Ed note: Little-known fact about Ubyssey elections: The editor in chief is contractually obliged to lift all new volunteers over his head for at least a full verse of this song.]
Aside from running small businesses and services that can’t compete without subsidies in an antiquated building, student leaders do important things. They know the real problems students face, have political capital, and aren’t paid by the university. They can therefore be honest brokers in improving that vague thing we call “the university experience.” So it’s kind of helpful when the people you elect are competent.
But this is harder then it seems, because the most competent people tend to be self-effacing and honest. Self-effacing, honest people running against:
a) Resume builders who are secretly robots
b) People who would kill for a photo with Justin Trudeau/Barack Obama/Christy Clark/Noam Chomsky/Jack Layton’s Ghost.
Both these groups will spout plenty of disingenuous malarkey to make you vote for them. Choose wisely. Regardless, when they get into power they will chart one of three predictable paths: The good, the incompetent, and the meh.
Because I am mercifully employed in journalism far away from UBC, I can’t really tell you who will end up being any of these things. Too far away from “the action” and all that. But I can tell you the people who were good/incompetent/meh at these positions in a time long ago, and talk about the things they did, and traits they possessed.
I realize this may give off the same impression that Gabrielle Cateris did as Andrea Zuckerman on 90210.
(Yes, old Ubyssey editors, this is where I got the “This Used To Be All Orange Groves!” self-deprecating joke from)
And I also realize I am making AMS Confidential jokes—had AMS Confidential existed on Usenet in the mid 1990s.
But my analysis has the virtue of being honest. I know far too much, aren’t friends with any student politicians and can unlike Confidential Editors, can make my points without ALL CAPS or #hashtags or endorsing people because they are HAWT and remind them of Ryan Gosling. [Ed note: When you can carry an entire movie with smirks and abs, we’ll talk.]
So, let’s look at the races. [We think he fell asleep before the other ones]
What do they do: They sit on the Senate, which oversees all academic matters at UBC. Big debates in the last five years include moving to a trimester system, Credit/D/Fail options for classes, honourary degrees for Japanese-Canadian students kicked out during WW2, and any department changes I can’t think of at the moment.
Why do you care?: You’re electing five people in a 70+ person group, of which 10+ are already students representing their faculty…so you shouldn’t care, actually. Ignore this one!
Campus journalists hate breaking this race down, because there are so many candidates, and the Senate is very conservative and doesn’t change much, and their meetings contain little in the way of free food (along with other, somewhat more legitimate reasons).
That being said, the Senate operates in the sweet spot between student politics and the board of governors of a billion-dollar institution. There’s a great deal of power in the Senate, overseeing all academic decisions at UBC and all. And the things students are asked to talk about in committee and vote on are of medium-sized consequence. They aren’t in the limelight, and can vote how they please. Plus, if you screw up, The Ubyssey probably won’t notice and wag their finger, unlike the other positions being elected.
What Really Matters: In a place with so many people and facing a one-year term (compared with the longer tenures of most everyone else in the Senate), student senators face an uphill battle to accomplish anything. So, when choosing which 5 of the eleventy billion candidates to vote for, consider the following two things:
1) Is there an issue they care about and have knowledge of?
2) Do they have experience getting things done?
(Note for #2: Things they say about high school/clubs/fraternities (IFC President excluded) have never been a real indicator of ability in this regard, and never will. Sorry!)
It’s pretty simple—in a one-year term, you won’t really accomplish anything unless you know what you care about before you get into power. And if you don’t have a track of record of getting people on your side before this job, you won’t magically develop it in front of a large group of professors. You’ll be able to read your briefing note, and be a good focus group for the people in your committee who wonder “But what do students think?!?”. But that’s about it.
Apply these principles, and you’ll probably only have five candidates left to vote for. So the “compare to people in the past” is less relevant in this category. But here are five people in the past who were at-large people on UBC Senate, and who did a solid job.
1) The Uber-Keener Who May Be A Cyborg—Justin Yang (2011-2013): The Uber-Keener has a resume that shouts “HOW DO YOU MAKE TIME FOR ALL THE THINGS?!?”, talks very quietly and humbly about everything, and was, without question, the biggest nerd in high school. They will answer your emails and have an alarming amount of detail on any question you ask. If you elect them, they might not actually change anything…but you will never be disappointed with your choice.
2) The Super-Enthusiastic One—AJ Koehn (2010-2011): The Super-Enthusiastic One also has a fantastic resume and works hard, but distinguishes themselves by talking about how AWESOME everyone is and how AWESOME UBC is and how they will work hard for you, Tracy Flick style!
They may also think far too highly of UBC, and get into shouting matches with Justin at Engineering Frat Parties both of them are too old to be at, BUT THAT’S ANOTHER STORY. The point is, Super-Enthusiastic One works hard, knows their issues, and knows how to convince both old people and young people—a potent combination on the Senate.
3) The One-Issue Candidates Who Cares—Spencer Rasmussen (2010-2012): One-Issue Guy Who Cares talks incessantly about his One Issue. It’s all that matters to them, they know way too much about it, all their experience pivots back to it, and sometimes you think JUST SHUT UP ABOUT YOUR ONE ISSUE, BUDDY.
But, their passion and knowledge on this one issue gives them one issue where they can speak with some authority to the wizened elders of Senate, which matters. And they will work hard, have a topic they can always advocate for, etc.
4) The Nice Guy Who Is Running For A Second Year—Joel Mertens (2009-2011): Nice Guy doesn’t ruffle many feathers, but is quite competent, and most important, wants to run again. In a place as slow-moving as the Senate, where many people serve for more than a decade, having a second year is a tremendous resource. It also shows they’re more than a resume builder (and there are plenty of resume builders who run for Senate), so you can trust them a wee bit more. Plus, Nice Guy will always respond to late-night emails from The Ubyssey requesting an interview, thus giving the masses an idea as to How The Senate Works.
5) The Jerk Who Can Speak His Mind While Being Respectful—Geoff Costeloe (2009-2010): The Jerk will say what he means, and means what he says. The vast majority of student leaders are petrified of saying blunt things, for fear of “damaging a relationship” (a stupid term which never means anything). That The Jerk does this is good; not only can they be a positive influence on AMS Council (which at-large Senators sit on), but their bluntness, if backed up by respectful arguments, are likely to be heard with open ears on Senate. You’re going to end up voting for a bunch of overly pleasant people for Senate—but you have five votes. One of them should go to a knowledgable jerk.
Stay tuned for Part II of this screed, delivered to our inbox at 6:33am.