Steward Election Reform

Logan Ye


Editor’s Note: To complement TBAW’s recent Head Steward Interviews and our impending Portfolio Stewards Profiles, we thought that it would be a good idea to share an article written by Logan Ye for Convergence that suggests possible reforms for the Steward Election Process. We are interested in fostering dialogue on this important topic, so feel free to contribute your responses and comments below.

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Steward Election Reform: Can We Do Better?

Steward elections are upon us, and it’s time to consider the role student government plays in the quality of the UCC environment. Strong student government and rich extra-curricular activities are what differentiate a great school from a good one.

Convergence took the most common complaints and now we’re offering our solutions. What do you think?

Steward elections become popularity contests

At first, this doesn’t seem to inherently be a problem; it’s fine that people are voting for people they are comfortable with and trust. The actual issue is that students are lazy, and don’t have a reason to read and consider declarations. A possible solution is to remove names completely from the preliminary voting process, and have people vote directly on declaration A, B, C, etc. Haiku would also need a streamlined way to view declarations without having to download them all individually or all in one large PDF file.

Of course, this would only work for the preliminary ballot, as platforms would be easily recognizable after speeches. It’s also possible that there would be ways to work around the anonymity granted by the declaration-only voting procedure, or that voting rates will drop. Given these problems, it’s still better than the status quo.

Another possible solution is to allow each candidate to film a 15-second bit, and play these videos on the TVs near the front foyer, cycling through all the candidates. This might allow people to select a couple candidates they are interested in, and perhaps consider reading their declaration in full. Again, not perfect, but perhaps better than the status quo.

The Preliminary Ballot Doesn’t Work

With over 26 candidates running for head steward, a first-past-the-post voting system (where everyone has a set number of votes and the top three with the most votes move on) may not actually be representative of what people want. First of all, people are unlikely to vote for candidates who are unlikely to be elected, even if they do think they are the best candidates for them. Secondly, the final three candidates aren’t necessarily (and often aren’t) preferred by a majority of voters, just by the largest minorities. The solution is to have a ranked ballot. Instead of voting for candidates directly, voters would be able to rank their candidates from most desirable to least (stopping on the list wherever they no longer hold a preference for one of the remaining candidates over another). The intricacies of the system are hard to explain succinctly, but it allows us to take into account everyone’s actual desires, instead of just their first or second choice (Google CGP Grey Alternative Voting if you want a thorough explanation of the process). This process seems tedious, but wouldn’t actually be that difficult given the technology we have available to us. If cities with millions of people can do it, UCC can do it.

Steward Roles are Unclear and Meaningless

Only very specific steward roles have clear jobs that when completed, affect the student body in an obvious way. For example, the social steward plans all the dances that go on at UCC, it’s very obvious whether or not he is doing a good job. Beyond that and a few other roles, the general student body only knows that stewards; make videos for large events, read announcements during assembly, and do a lot of behind the scenes “stuff.” This is not to undermine what stewards do, as I am sure there is actually a lot of work that goes on that the student body cannot directly attribute to an individual steward.

The truth is we need to have clear obligations for each steward beyond fluffy constitutional jargon. This would allow candidates to propose specific solutions to address problems that pertain to their responsibilities and be held accountable to them. We need a better system that makes it more obvious to voters which candidate has actual concrete plans. Does anyone really know what the community service or sustainability steward have done in the past year?

Some other questions also worth asking:

  • Should Y1’s and IB2’s be allowed to vote?
  • Should we allow more campaigning in general?
  • If all else fails, are we okay with Stewards being largely symbolic?
  • Are the LD lines actually any shorter?

Conclusion

Lucas Manucha pointed out a revealing flaw in all the Head Steward candidates’ platforms during Monday’s Q&A period. He asked the candidates to describe what flaws they see in UCC, and what they have already done to address it. No candidate could properly answer the question. Manucha is really asking “why haven’t you already been trying to get these ideas if they are so brilliant and you care so much?” Stewardship doesn’t actually confer a ton of power (especially if the improvement would have been widely accepted anyways). We’re not willing to admit it, but we are all, at least in part, not just motivated by altruism, but the prestige and recognition of the position.

Stewards can either represent UCC, or they can be what changes UCC. Perhaps right now they do too much of the former, and too little of the latter. It’s up to us as voters to advocate for a better system and demand more from our leaders.

One thought on “Steward Election Reform

  1. As a recent graduate, here’s how I think the system should work:

    – Only IB1 students and Faculty/Staff (the people who know the nominees best) vote in the preliminary ballot. This acts to help ensure the strongest final 3, at which point the entire student body can vote. Letting the IB2s and FYs vote in the first round makes no sense. Seniority isn’t at all relevant, particularly when in theory Y1s would know their IB1 mentors better than say, FY students.

    – Ditch the white blazers. Sure, bring them back on occasions like Remembrance Day when Old Boys are around, but they’re otherwise ostentatious and only serve to motivate for the wrong reasons.

    – Create an Assemblies/Communications/whatever Steward position and let “Creativity” be just “Arts”. Friday Assemblies have long moved past necessarily being “Creative” assemblies and are now just “Student” assemblies. The best Arts Steward is not necessarily the best person to run assembly. We’ve gotten lucky in the past with people like Harry who happened to have a knack in both departments, but sandwiching two positions into one often leads to one of the roles being neglected.

    – One reason often cited for the above not happening is that adding an Assembly steward would make the Board too big. Easy solution that should happen regardless – remove Head of Houses from the Board of Stewards. They have enough on their plates with running weekly house meetings. Students elect their Head of House because they’ll do a good job running house events and have spirit, not because they will be good members of the Board. The school has long moved beyond a point where houses are so integral that each must be represented on the board. Many agree with this, but it hasn’t been changed (and won’t in the future) by the Board since a majority (10/17) of its members are Heads of Houses themselves. Who would ever vote against their own job, even if it’s for the better of the system?

    – This creates a situation, however, where there could be no Boarding students on the Board. Add a “Residential Life” position to compensate, voted for only by the Boarding community. This allows a student to really focus on representing and improving the Boarding experience.

    Every year, the Board of Stewards is usually comprised of 17 (mostly) competent people who combined, seem to get nearly nothing done. There are too many cooks in the kitchen. The above would trim it down to 9 people, a nice odd number that ensures no deadlock.

    As for Prefectship, that’s a whole other story. But the current system encourages students to earn their fancy tie through an application process that requires little effort, then proceed to do nothing as they can just add it to their résumé. Never mind the fact that Universities aren’t exactly impressed when they learn that nearly a third of graduating students have the title. Students who really do lead and contribute get no distinction from those who just wear the tie to school every day. It’s a shame.

    The school should switch to a merit based system, like the one found at RSGC. Students who show exceptional leadership and active contribution in the house earn Prefectship and are presented the tie by their Senior House Advisor in House Meeting. Why give someone the title and tie before they actually deserve it?

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