Exploring Class Council selection processes

Questions arise over interview methods

University Board of Elections announced Feb. 27 that 7,017 students voted in University-wide elections, representing 30.8 percent of the student population.

Once the election process is completed, student self-governance provides the winning president and vice president the ability to carry out the selection process for the Council’s body at their own discretion — a practice that has raised concerns among current Council members.

The selection process

According to the Class Council Constitution, the Council body will “consist of forty to sixty members of the Class along with the President, Vice President and Secretary.”

Second-year College student and Third Year Council President Lital Firestone said the Alumni Association provides a scripted process for ensuring effective and fair selection practices.

Mary Elizabeth Luzar, director of student and young alumni programs, and Emily Handy, assistant director of student programs, advise the Fourth Year Trustees and Class Councils respectively, to reach out to as many students as possible to reflect the diversity of each class.

“[Patrick and I] specifically wanted to make sure that we reached out to organizations that don’t usually hear about Class Council stuff to be a part of the conversation, so we sent emails to various multi-cultural and social organizations asking them for nominations for current second-years who would be interested in applying,” Firestone said.

As advisers, both Handy and Luzar distribute the applications to the presidents and vice presidents for review. From that point in the process, the president and vice president have the autonomy to select applicants and conduct interviews as they see fit.

Firestone and Malcolm Stewart, a first-year College student and the Second Year Council president, decided to diminish the possibility of bias by reading the applications anonymously in order to enhance the merits and skills of an individual’s application.

“[Patrick and I] read the applications blindly so we could focus on the content, and then from there, we picked about 90 people to invite for interviews based on who we decided on individually and then we discussed them together,” Firestone said. “It was a really rough process because everyone was qualified, but ultimately it was those who came completely prepared [for their interview] with creative ideas and projects in mind that made it to Council.”

“Applications [were] the worse part of the process — you’re making decisions on someone off of paper,” Stewart said. “But time commitments were vital, and we especially wanted people who were invested.”

Issues with consolidated independence

As one of the University’s most robust and enduring traditions, student self-governance functions as a mechanism entrusting students with a majority of the decision-making on Grounds. Nevertheless, the degree of governing power given to the presidents and vice presidents of Trustees has generated concerns around Grounds.

Although the Class Council and Trustees officers receive guidance on how to construct effective and valuable questions for Council body interviews, the questions asked are ultimately at the discretion of the officers themselves, and may vary between applicants.

Firestone and Stewart both said that they sought to standardize the questions they asked in interviews — between three and four questions, depending on the time — and asked every applicant the same questions. If the applicant was a returning member of the Council body, they were asked a question that reflected on their time with Council and if there were any changes they would make in the next term.

Nevertheless, three applicants for Trustees and current members of Third Year Council — Commerce student Meredith Markwood, College student Lauren Russell and Batten student Jasmine Chiu — said that they received a question that was not asked to every applicant, and more specifically was not asked to every returner.

“Your application is obviously targeted towards who gets elected in terms of what they know about your background or your involvement prior to [the interview],” Russell said. “Especially if you’re a returner, if the incumbent wins, they’ve seen what you’ve done. […] If it’s not the incumbent then you might want to show, […] ‘Well, here’s what I’ve given to Class Council,’ […] so it’s a little bit different.”

All three students said they were asked standard questions by third-year College student Andrew Kwon, the Fourth Year Trustees president-elect, and third-year Batten student Donald Fryar, the Fourth Year Trustees vice president-elect, and an additional question along the lines of, “How would you deal with conflict and disagreement with [Andrew and Donald]?”

Markwood said the question startled her but that she answered the question honestly, while Russell said she did not think twice about the question until after the interview.

“I left the interview concerned about that question,” Markwood said.

Russell said that once she found out that Kwon and Fryar did not ask every applicant that specific question it became a “pointed question [...] which seemed strange.”

Russell used the example of Madison House, which she said conducts interviews for leadership positions with completely standardized questions.

“Everything follows a very set and specific pattern and consistency across the board,” Russell said. “There’s none of this alternating [the questions] for specific people or not asking it for certain people. How do you look at every applicant on the same level if you didn’t ask them the same questions?”

Markwood said she questioned if the only applicants asked the question were those who publicly supported incumbent candidates Jack Vallar and Parisa Sadeghi during student elections in February.

“I left that interview concerned about that question,” Markwood said. “Why was I asked that question? Is it because I shared Jack and Parisa’s campaign on my Facebook profile picture?”

Russell and Chiu also said they were asked the question in their interviews. Both were Council members who publicly supported Vallar and Sadeghi.

Luzar said the outgoing president and vice president of Trustees conduct a training session with the elected officials of Trustees to talk about the best practices to use when conducting interviews and informing applicants of the decision.

“There’s a lot of leeway in deciding how questions are formed because each of the [elects] has a different personality,” Luzar said.

Ultimately, student self-governance allows the officials to dictate the questions however they want and does not allow an adviser, adult or other student to intervene.

Chiu highlighted that Trustees will have a 29 percent return rate from Third Year Council and 34 percent will have Council experience in general. In comparison, 51 percent of Second Year Council will be returners, and Firestone said about 60 percent of Third Year Council will be returners.

Both Stewart and Firestone said institutional knowledge is an important asset to strengthening the Council, but that new members will bring fresh and new ideas.

“Generally, experience on Class Council is very beneficial, but new people bring new perspectives and if you have too many people who have served with Council it will bring a limitation to initiatives,” Sadeghi said.

Nevertheless, Markwood, Chiu and Russell, as well as Sadeghi, said that because of the steep learning curve, the low percentage of students with Council experience could hinder the productivity of ad hoc committees and Trustee events such as Final Exercises and Class Giving.

After multiple requests, Kwon could not be reached for an interview before press time.

A discussion of solutions

“In the way the bylaws and Constitution are set is that the two people who select [members] are the president and vice president, and no one else is in the room.” Russell said. “There’s no one to monitor what’s happening and there’s no one really to sit there and not have a conflict of interest [...] for good or bad.”

Current members of Third Year Council said the most effective way to alleviate this issue of variation in interview questions in the selection process is to add a third party to the interviews and revise the Class Constitution.

The Constitution, which has not been revised since 2010, provides no amendment or bylaw that discusses specifics on the selection of Class Council members.

According to the Constitution, any permanent changes to the Constitution must be proposed through a student-wide referendum in which two-thirds of those voting in the Council must approve of the changes.

“Any changes made to the Constitution are done during the spring elections and are voted on by the entire class,” Luzar said.

Russell and Markwood agreed that the Council should implement a third party in the selection process in order to have an individual who can sit in on the interview to advise on any bias shown and consult with the president and vice president. Nevertheless, both said there would be tension between this idea and student self-governance.

“Student self-governance acts as a double-edged sword,” Russell said. “This is all very specific to Trustees and the lack of a constitution and how student self-governance really is only protecting those governing us, and there’s not a whole lot we can do to check them.”

Markwood said that in the case of this year’s selections, the administration claimed their hands were tied. One question that needs to be asked, she said, is the role of the adviser in a special status organization especially when their advice is being ignored or overlooked.

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