This weekend, students will have the opportunity to elect officers for next year’s Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) executive committee. Sort of. Only three of the officer positions are actually contested this year—the chairs of diversity and inclusion, facilities and sustainability, student organizations, student affairs and the treasury will win by default.
It seems like the student body isn’t very engaged with BSG. There are plenty of reasons why. As several candidates noted in this week’s debates, students don’t have a good sense of what BSG does—and we think it’s because BSG has done very little this year. The assembly has voted to change the way it votes (ranked choice is good, but it’s not an accomplishment). Members changed their own bylaws. They’ve sent several surveys, but it’s not clear what will come from any of them. They’ve invited plenty of administrators to their meetings, but little of the information they glean is conveyed to the student body. In fact, much of what they discuss goes unreported, as the practice of sending out meeting minutes has all but died off. Yes, some students use services like Polarflix and the shuttle to Portland (though we don’t know how many), and BSG voted to spend $500 on condoms and dental dams for upperclassmen. But we can, and should, ask for more than this from our student government.
This lack of achievement might stem from candidates’ unrealistic platforms. Candidates this year have proposed to implement the double minor, make syllabi available before course registration and pressure the College to hire new counselors. Most candidates want to revive Bowdoin Course Reviews, but students almost never fill them out now, and it’s unlikely they will start, even if the website gets a facelift. For years, president-hopefuls have promised to reconsider the ESD requirement. This has never gone anywhere in the past, and candidates have not made a compelling case for why things would be different this time around.
The unopposed candidates are a simpler problem. When voting in an unopposed race, students are still given two options: the candidate or a blank ballot. A candidate running unopposed should have to beat the blank ballot, and students should be made aware that voting blank can have a material effect on the race. In the event that an uncontested student fails to win more than 50 percent of the vote, there should be a new election for the position, allowing other students to declare their candidacy and run against the formerly uncontested candidate. It should not be possible for a student to be elected to BSG by simply tossing their name in the ring. It’s a position that should be earned.
Setting grandiose and unrealistic goals, with no clear outline of implementation, sets candidates up to fail once they take office. Additionally, when half of the positions in an election cycle are uncontested, winners have no mandate from the student body nor have they proven that they understand what is attainable. Rhetoric becomes empty, elections become shams and candidates are not forced to seriously consider the needs of the students. We’ve seen this with our BSG candidates in the past, and we’re worried that we’re going to see it again.
To next year’s BSG: do better.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Nell Fitzgerald, Dakota Griffin, George Grimbilas, Roither Gonzales, Calder McHugh and Jessica Piper.