Sophomore senator Nick Hinman presented his ad hoc subcommittee report to the student rights committee of Student Senate on Wednesday, April 17. The report included an analysis of the role of executive staff in elections and how it was a potential cause of only one coalition running in this year’s election.
The subcommittee, which was comprised of Hinman and senators Derek Dunn, Max Scheiber, and Phoenix Schroeder, was formed on March 6 by the Student Rights committee after being proposed by Hinman in order to ensure integrity in Student Senate elections.
“The point is not to call out any one coalition, it’s to point out the way that we do elections sometimes contributes to a climate that we tend to ignore,” Hinman said in the meeting.
The subcommittee report pointed to the involvement of the "serving chief of staff's" as the leader of an unofficial campaign as an example of involvement of executive staff members in elections. The report did not name any members of Senate.
The current chief of staff, Zach Thomason, served as Crimson+Blue's campaign manager in the 2019 elections.
“I took very careful steps to make sure that my role as chief of staff was never in conflict of my role as campaign manager. That included informing the vice president that there may be a point where he would need to take over my duties,” said current Chief of Staff Zach Thomason. “I think that, ultimately, people are trying to come up with some reason as to why there was only one candidate running.”
Hinman said while the one coalition was an issue that prompted the formation of the subcommittee, it also stemmed from the involvement of executive staff in elections and their impact on other senators. The report expressed senators’ concerns of “insider culture” during these elections.
“Some Senators believe that this perceived ‘interference’ serves the purpose of influencing the upcoming elections,” the report said.
The report said the one-coalition election was caused in part by the executive staff members creating a large amount of support behind one coalition, and inherently causing other students to not feel compelled to run in the elections.
This example was taken from conversations between the subcommittee and multiple senators and committee members from the 2018-19 Senate. The report detailed some of those interviewed believed “executive staff unfairly influenced the proceedings to prevent the election of a senator who, at the time, was perceived to be a possible ‘opposition’ candidate in the upcoming elections.”
Hinman declined to comment on the details or identity of the alleged opposition candidate.
The report also said the one-coalition problem displayed a deeper issue within Senate of outreach and increasing student involvement with Senate. Hinman said the low involvement of students could be a cause of only one coalition, and what contributes to that.
“This is not any one coalition or any one leader, not any one senator’s fault that there’s one coalition,” Hinman said. “However if we just ignore it and just assume it’s because everyone loves [the coalition] so much, then we are inherently ignoring the fact that this is probably caused by a breakdown of student engagement on campus, and that’s something that we can’t afford to ignore in 2019.”
Hinman said the dominance of Greek life in Senate has inherently added to the problem of student engagement. He said this year’s coalition pursued every major Greek house while campaigning, rather than reaching out to other major student organizations on campus.
“Even running unopposed, our coalitions can’t seem to break the Greek-machine mindset that drives our elections,” the report said.
During the meeting Wednesday evening, current Student Body Vice President Charles Jetty questioned whether or not the report addressed any "barriers marginalized students face in elections." He asked Hinman whether or not the subcommittee believed diversity and equity was a central issue that should have been looked into.
“Quite frankly, a lot of the people that sat on that subcommittee were not of those minorities and we didn’t want to speak for them," Hinman said in response to questions from Jetty.
This comes as junior Tiara Floyd, the current policy and development director, was elected student body president, the first woman of color to win the seat. Floyd ran unopposed.
While the report did not find answers to the problems that arose, the members of the subcommittee drafted the report in hopes that future administrations would consider what was found and how they could fix these issues.
“The subcommittee hopes that the newly-elected 2019 Senate will take this report and its contents into consideration over the next year as it formulates policy and will strive to make Senate more accessible and inclusive for all Jayhawks,” the report said.