Monday’s candidates forum was in many respects quite revealing, and not just about the candidates. You can read their responses to the questions, and I strongly encourage everyone to view the video of the session to draw their own conclusions. [Video will be available on Monday May 7 – Ed.]
This was an opportunity missed by so many. It was open and available to all, live; if you couldn’t be there, Chris Ceary was taking questions via Twitter and Facebook, and the video was live-streamed. In the audience? About 20 people, most of them The-Quill staffers. The question began to form, does anybody care about this election?
The candidates had to respond spontaneously to the questions; they had no prior knowledge of what would be asked. At first glance, one might think these are surface issues and the answers don’t say much. But look closely at the words each candidate chose and how much their answers reveal about their knowledge of what they’re getting into should they be elected. The spoken word reveals so much about how a person processes and forms their opinions. A government relies on people who can grasp an issue quickly and use their knowledge and experience to form an opinion, and, also, on people with the courage to say “I don’t know enough about this, I need to find out the facts first.” Spontaneous answers like these tell you what depth the person brings to the responsibility, whether or not they are listening to the constituent, their own level of confidence, and their honesty. In this regard, most of the candidates were a disappointment. It would seem that taking a course in Public Speaking should be a requirement for SGO candidacy.
What first struck me, sitting in the audience, was how often several members had to ask for questions to be repeated. I could understand Ji Il Han asking for repeats or clarifications because he is dealing (and dealing well, by the way) with English being a second language. He mentioned that he is aware of his language barrier, but I think he displayed adequate understanding to be on SGO. His barrier may be more about insensitive people who hear his difficulty and stop listening for the content of his words. But the impression Marco Sumpter, Anna Cook and Karlie Pickett left is that they have a focus issue, that one person speaking while they were supposedly formulating their own answer to a question left them confused. I’ve been to one SGO meeting and it seems to work that way, with multiple-sided conversations going on and different answers to questions. It made me question how effective these three could be in that environment.
Another overall observation was how often each person simply reiterated the answer given by the person speaking before them. Sumpter in particular was most often given to simply agreeing with those around him. Han and Pickett, on the other hand, actually had their own opinions and stuck to them. When it comes to any sort of government, I prefer the someone who actually thinks for themself and has the guts to voice an unpopular opinion. It makes for better, more involved debate and consideration of an issue. It takes courage of one’s own convictions to stand apart from the crowd and risk being unpopular. Joshua Lillehang introduced himself as a people person, who likes to please everybody. While that’s a great attribute for an assistant to anything, it is certainly not indicative of someone who has the courage to voice his own opinion when its unpopular.
Mandi Wilson’s responses seemed to hit several times on the communication gap between “adults and students.” Does she not consider herself, or the other students here, adults? This is a community college that serves people from their first year out of high school throughout their life. A large portion of the student body are working adults, anywhere from ages 21 to 65. Is her connection to the student body limited to people under age 21? What does that say about her level of judgement, her ability to balance variables in considering an issue? If every issue is seen by her to be students vs adults, I don’t think Wilson can represent a majority of the student body.
In preparation for this forum, I reviewed the “platform” of each candidate. Cook, Wilson, and Sumpter all hit upon how their experience on SGO would build their leadership skills, give them experience, and expand their portfolio. Good; those kind of opportunities are what Community College should be about. But what will their presence on SGO do for the student body? Apparently, it’s all about them. A well thought out platform would tell what issues the person thinks are facing, or should face, SGO next year and where they stand on that issue. I hope in writing their responses to the unanswered questions for The Quill, the candidates give us reasons to vote for them beyond whether or not we are their friends.
Everyone on the panel was aware that there is too little communication between the student body and the SGO. Pickett presented some specific ideas as to how she would open up communications that sound reasonable and throughout all the other questions, kept making the point that keeping SGO connected to the student body is the primary issue. Cook revealed herself to be proactively inclined by asking for more goal setting for SGO. Sumpter was willing to go along with everything everybody else said, and Lillehaug sounded like he was willing to eavesdrop and then insert himself into conversations to find out what students think. Han is confident that his circle of friends will provide the survey info he will need.
Now, please remember that of these candidates, Sumpter, Cook, Wilson, and Lillehaug, are incumbents. They’ve been working on SGO for at least one year now and should be pretty knowledgeable. So when asked if SGO should have a voting presence on the Board of Trustees, it was alarming that none of them answered with: “SGO already has a presence; the president of SGO attends the Board meetings.” This was clarified; the President of SGO does attend the Board Meetings, but does not vote. A show of hands identified that all agreed SGO should have a voting member except Han. I happen to agree with them on this. At one time in my career, I worked for the Association of College Boards of Trustees. It’s a pretty common constitutional clause, that the SGO have a voting member on the board. Why Carroll doesn’t do this, I have no idea.
In many ways, this forum left me with the impression that this SGO is probably very much like that of high school SGOs. It is manned by the people who all like to be involved in the school issues and they get elected by their group of friends who have the same opinions. It is a government of the majority by the minority, because the majority has little interest. After this forum, I’ve been asking in my classes who knew about the forum, why didn’t they attend, and are they going to vote, do they care about the SGO election. It was disheartening that every person I spoke with answered no, no, no and no. One comment I got was, “Hey, this is Community College. I barely have time to go to classes, get my studies done, and work to pay for the tuition. I don’t have time for clubs, activities or any other issues.” Sadly, I understand this comment. It is the reality for most of us, and what it reveals is that to be relevant to the students, the SGO has to get focused and become exceptionally visible on the issues of class accessibility, curriculum quality, and costs of attendance. Everything else is just glitter. I think we need some candidates who can think clearly and be our advocates on these issues; so far such candidates are not in evidence.
Perhaps the unspoken issue is how to convince the student body that SGO is important to their educational career. Admittedly, college is a means to an end, the one way to ensure that your working career is on an upwardly mobile track. Consider the fact that getting that first job out of college, or the promotion from having taken a group of courses, is as much based on who you know as what you know. The connections you make help you market yourself, so being an invisible student in the herd that shuffles from one class to the other doesn’t really give you those connections. When these candidates talk about how being on SGO adds to their portfolio, they’re right in that employers, transfer schools and graduate schools consider these emblematic of leadership. There’s never a question of how capable that leadership was, just that it occurred. When you never make time for club involvement, never have an impact on the school you’ve been attending, and ignore the issues facing the SGO, you’re missing half the portfolio that is expected by the larger world out there. Take the first step, make your opinion known to these candidates and have an impact on this school.