Faculty Elections, Soviet-Style

Machine politics, rigged ballots, one-party rule – the stuff out of which student government elections are made, right? Wrong. For all of its faults, elections to the SGA are real elections, with candidates who oppose each other, voters who ask questions (and demand answers), and local newspapers that report all the messy political wrangling. For a proper Soviet-style travesty of the electoral system, you have to look elsewhere: to the university faculty and its senate.

This week the faculty received something called a “ballot” from Senate president John Mason. It is time to elect an “ombudsperson,” that is, a person who acts as intermediary between faculty and administration in cases of dispute. Only one name appears on the “ballot,” and the “vote” is simply a yes or no, without even the possibility of a write-in candidate. Somebody is apparently reading from the Iraqi regime’s old playbook: the last time Saddam Hussein was “elected” — with 99% of the vote — the format was exactly the same. The only question is by what margin the faculty will approve their one and only choice. Unfortunately we will never know, since the results of faculty elections are not regularly made public, even to the faculty.

Some might say, “well, there was no other candidate available.” Hogwash. The sole purpose of a nominating committee is to find other candidates. This committee failed, but not because other candidates were unavailable, as Professor Marvin Johnson pointed out in an unsuccessful attempt to shame in the Senate leadership into acting democratically. We have over a thousand faculty members. Johnson himself contacted several who said there were willing to run for election. The committee simply didn’t look, nor was it encouraged to do so by the Senate high-command, which had already decided on the person it wished to appoint.

Unfortunately, shinanigans of this sort are not the exception but the rule in faculty elections. Recently the Senate “elected” its president, vice-president, and secretary. You would think there would be many, or at least a few, candidates, and that the election would be preceeded by vigorous debates on issues of governance. The opposite is the case. There is usually only one candidate for president, and this candidate is always the current vice-president.

The way you get that job is to be “nominated” by the current leadership, which grooms would-be successors based on their tractability and compliance with the leadership’s agenda. There is never any debate. The result is a virtual political dynasty that guarantees its own perpetuation through the custom of uncontested elections.

This year, to be sure, we did have two candidates for both president and vice-president. One of us (Nuckolls) nominated both. When the “election” was held, the leadership was asked to allow some time for the candidates to speak, so that we, the electors, could compare them. This was seen as a shocking departure from established practice. When the election took place, it did, in the manner of all previous elections, fulfill its pseudo-dynastic mandate. In a body so completely unaccustomed to real elections, could any other result be expected?

The members of the Politburo in the Soviet Union used to hold up little red cards when they voted on their leaders. The faculty should consider adopting a similar practice. Meanwhile, the students should congratulate themselves, because on this campus the students are the only ones who believe in democracy sufficiently to take their voting rights seriously.


Charles W Nuckolls and David T. Beito