Like in any political race, promises that Yale College Council candidates make during their campaigns may not be reliable indicators of what they will accomplish in office.
The 2007-’08 YCC elections were scheduled to kick off this morning, giving students the opportunity to decide which of the 23 candidate deserves their support for six offices. But voters who rely on the candidacy statements posted to Yale Station should not count on the pledges made in them to be accomplished by the end of next year. A review of last year’s campaign promises suggests that the winners of last year’s general election have yet to fulfill many of the projects they said they would undertake if elected.
Students said this lack of accountability leaves Yalies with few reliable means to judge candidates, but YCC representatives said the ideas they advance during election season are intended as guidelines for their work in office rather than clear objectives that they promise to fulfill. Some representatives also said the goals they set forth are difficult to accomplish within a year.
YCC President Emery Choi ’07 said students should not expect candidates to remain completely faithful to the campaign promises they make, as it is often difficult for student representatives to predict the precise interests of the student body in the upcoming year.
“Some of our priorities change over time and depend on the landscape of student opinion and the members that we have on our council,” he said.
In his statement to student voters last year, Choi pledged to reach out to student organizations, work toward a reduction in the student income contribution for those receiving financial aid, grant student groups access to University alumni databases, strengthen ties with residential college councils and student affairs committees, and create a survey in which students can rate dining hall foods, among several other undertakings.
But while some students said they think the YCC has made a stronger effort to interact with campus groups, the student self-help contribution has remained fixed at $4,400, students are still restricted from accessing alumni databases, and some residential college council members said there has not been an effort to engage them in dialogue.
Ivan Dremov ’07, who served as the Pierson College Council president last semester, said he was disappointed that the YCC did not reach out to the residential college councils this year as was promised.
“I generally believe that YCC officers are missing out on a lot of advice by not reaching out to the residential college councils because council presidents and SAC chairs are very experienced in many of YCC’s duties,” he said.
Choi said some of his stated goals have “slipped through the cracks,” but he maintained that many promises cannot be delivered on because of time constraints, administrative obstacles or a lack of interest on the council. He said he hopes next year’s council will continue the current council’s efforts to interact more often with student groups.
“It’s not like we dropped the ball completely on that subject,” he said. “But there’s obviously more that we can do.”
YCC Vice President Steve Engler ’07 said he thinks the optimal approach for student voters would be to carefully scrutinize campaign statements in addition to considering the suggestions of friends who are knowledgeable about campus affairs. Engler said students can weed out the candidates with extravagant promises by honing in on those with a history of dedication to student policy.
“People should vote for the candidate who has a proven record of getting things done,” he said. “They should look for candidates who can motivate other people to work on common issues and have the grit and ability to implement change.”
During last year’s election, Engler stated that he would push for sustainable energy and recycling, strengthen ties with New Haven, improve resources for campus organizations, create a student cabinet to advise the YCC, and improve communication through town hall-style meetings.
Although a student cabinet has not been created, Engler did oversee progress in the other areas, and he said YCC representatives consulted members of campus organizations last semester on what issues the council would tackle.
The Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, a body under the umbrella of YCC, is known to many students involved in campus organizations as the central source of funding on campus. Headed by Hassan Siddiq ’08, who won his position in a close run-off election last year, the 11-member committee is responsible for allocating Yale College funds for undergraduate organizations and providing “logistical and environmental support” to students.
Several of last year’s UOFC Chair candidates, including Siddiq, criticized the $600 limit on student group funding per semester and pledged to raise this limit to better accommodate groups. In his campaign statement, Siddiq also promised to double the number of application opportunities from four to eight to allow greater freedom to groups and to provide for the “thorough consideration to their financial needs.”
But the $600 cap and number of application deadlines have not budged since last year.
In response, Siddiq said administrative obstacles prevented him from implementing the promise he made during his campaign to augment the funding limit. He said he did not strive to increase the number of application deadlines because the current arrangement offers students more than enough chances to apply.
“The system is fine,” he said.
Many students expressed concern about the UOFC’s lack of transparency and slowness in determining funding eligibility.
“Basically, the UOFC tends to be ambiguous about what they will fund and what they won’t,” Yale Bellydance Society President Kristen Windmuller ’08 said.
Windmuller said the committee misplaced her group’s application last semester and then asked the group to resubmit a proposal one day before the next application deadline, making it difficult to set a budget for her group at the beginning of the academic year. She said she would appreciate additional application deadlines because it could yield a faster turnaround time for funding, and she has not seen any significant change in UOFC policy.
“It doesn’t seem any different than in past years,” she said.
Despite the apparent failure of several current officers to fully meet their campaign promises, Ned Mitchell ’09, who ran against Siddiq for the position of UOFC chair last year, said the influence of the “hackneyed promises” can still be substantial.
“For those that do log on, the statements are everything,” he said.
But Mitchell acknowledged that many students have grown skeptical of campaign statements. Several students said this has driven a disproportionate number of voters to turn to their friends for recommendations instead of making their own decisions.
Josh Bone ’08, a board member of the Yale Debate Association, said that although he considers campaign statements before voting, he has learned to place more weight on friends’ evaluations of the candidates. Bone said he is upset about the council’s legacy of unfulfilled promises, though he is not surprised that the impressive-sounding schemes that candidates describe are rarely achieved.
“I tend to be skeptical of grander plans that people might have planned,” he said.
Ryan Fennerty ’08, a co-president of Davenport College Council, said he thinks the many students who rely on candidacy statements would be better served if they judged the candidates on the quality of thought behind the goals that they list rather than the specific goals themselves.
“A lot of times people will put up a laundry list of objectives,” he said. “It makes much more sense when you see people with a few overarching goals.”
But Choi said he trusts Yale students to be well informed about campus affairs and to carefully compare candidates with specific and streamlined goals with those who have overbroad aspirations.
“It becomes easier to make a judgment call when the goals that are set out are very specific,” he said.
The polls for this year’s races opened this morning and will close on Wednesday at 9 p.m.