We never thought we would decline to endorse a candidate in a contested race for Yale College Council finance director.
But we cannot, in good conscience, back Daniel Tovbin ’17 or John Risbergs ’17. In meetings with the News, neither demonstrated a capacity to do anything but a haphazard job.
This is surprising, especially for Tovbin, who is currently treasurer of the Sophomore Class Council and a member of the Events Committee. But there was no trace of Tovbin’s platform anywhere online until several hours after our meeting with him. When we asked him why he hadn’t made his platform public, he said someone on his campaign advised him that he would have a greater chance of winning if he kept his platform private. This would be funny, if it were a joke. But it’s not — this is the genuine belief of someone who is asking students to trust him with a budget of $250,000. Here lies another problem: Tovbin misstated the budget as $197,000. This might seem inconsequential, but if there’s one fact the finance director should know, this is it.
The single concrete idea Tovbin could provide is using added funds from the slated $250,000 increase in the student activities fee to reorient a greater proportion of money toward student organizations and club sports, 60 percent to be precise, leaving 40 percent for the YCC to spend on Spring Fling and other events.
On paper, Tovbin has the requisite experience to execute this shift in funding. He has managed a budget, admittedly a much smaller one, as treasurer of SoCo, and he has a working knowledge of how decisions are made by the Council.
At the same time, and somewhat inexplicably, Tovbin has betrayed an utter lack of knowledge about the scope of the YCC’s authority, and how it relates to the rest of the University. One aspect of his newly publicized platform is funding something related to mental health. When asked to elaborate, he said he thought the YCC could help compensate additional clinicians hired by Yale Mental Health and Counseling. Put simply, this makes no sense. It demonstrates a lack of care in putting together a plan for the job he is seeking. We can only speculate that Tovbin was so sure he would win the election that he didn’t feel the need to have the vaguest sense of what he could feasibly accomplish.
In a platform that he subsequently emailed to the News, Tovbin fails to explain any specifics about how he would work with the Undergraduate Organizations Committee or the YCC Events Committee to allocate the increased funds. Nor does he adequately tie his past YCC experience to the job of managing the budget for the entire body.
Risbergs, meanwhile, has a worrying lack of experience. He has never attended a Yale College Council meeting in any capacity, nor has he been involved with any other level of student government. While being a member is certainly not required, it is helpful. Even current YCC President Michael Herbert ’16, who cast himself as an outsider when he ran last year, attended meetings before vying for a role on the Council.
In addition, Risbergs’ idea to donate $100 to a charity of students’ choice rather than spend that money on campaigning is nothing but a gimmick. Most candidates spend far less than $100 on their campaigns, and donating that sum to a charity does not prove his ability to manage the YCC’s finances.
Risbergs has clearly spent time researching the details of the YCC’s budget, and he showed initiative in reaching out to various companies about sponsorships and other partnerships, but we are worried about his ability to communicate effectively with outside groups and students alike. He was pugnacious in responding to questions about his experience, refusing to grant that there is a difference between working as an analyst for a hedge fund and collaborating with peers in distributing intensely sought-after funds. We worry about his ability to build relationships with the business team charged with carrying out his decisions. Risbergs might be expert with numbers, but if he can’t build consensus and motivate others, he will fail as finance director.
It might behoove Risbergs to think through why he wants this job in the first place. When asked, he cited his role as a Freshman Olympics captain and said he wanted to have a greater impact on the student body. Why YCC? Why finance?
The 2015–16 year will be a critical one for the finance director, as the increase in the student activities fee will give the YCC much-needed funds to expand events and breathe life into student organizations.
There are 24 hours before polls open. There is time to do better. Risbergs must rethink his approach to the Council, and how he would work to be a team player. Tovbin should take a second look at the numbers and seek to craft a vision of the YCC’s finances based in fact.