Students deserve actionable campaign promises during campus-wide elections

Campaigning for campus-wide elections will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 15. From then until the first round of voting ends on March 2, dozens of students will clamor for your vote in an attempt to ostensibly represent you in Student Government, as well as in a handful of other campus organizations. 

SG, the University Unions Board, the Texas Student Media Board and other election-based institutions rely on students with good intentions and a clear vision for the future. Therefore, it lies in the hands of you, the voting student body, to distinguish exactly whether the candidates have those qualities. 

For many of the positions, just filling the seats can be a problem. There were no competitive elections in Texas Student Media last year, and while the race for editor-in-chief will be contested next year, there are two seats on the TSM board that no students filed to run for by the filing deadline. Many of the elections for Graduate Student Assembly and for Student Government representatives in all but the largest colleges on campus are uncontested. 

In some sense, it makes sense that students seeking professional degrees would not have much time to devote to these organizations — Andrew Parks, who was elected to be the Law School representative in SG, resigned to take an internship at the Texas Legislature. Nonetheless, these seats still need to be filled somehow, and a student body as large and ambitious as ours should be able to produce quality candidates for all of these open seats. If you think you have the time and skills to serve these institutions, we strongly encourage you to apply.

We must also recognize that these races are not the ones that make campaign season a nightmare for many students on campus. One day in the future, we may see aggressive campaign tactics on the West Mall from candidates hoping to be president of Events & Entertainment. Instead, students are woefully underexposed to the candidates on the ballot charged with direct responsibilities, and overexposed to students running for a handful of coveted positions — often on insubstantial platforms with unachievable promises.

It should go without saying that the students running to represent the voice of the University should be able to offer something worth saying. We implore you to hold them to that. Our campus has been the epicenter of dozens of nationwide debates throughout its history. The Tower was the site of the first major school shooting in the country. Two of the most important Supreme Court cases on race in education — Sweatt v. Painter and Fisher v. UT — examined our university’s admissions policies. The outcry over campus carry erupted on the steps of our campus. Our city lies at the center of a national debate on sanctuary city policies.

For us to elect leaders based on empty promises to “build an inclusive campus by promoting cultural events,” or to increase school spirit is to ignore the weight that falls on our shoulders. Even though his year’s assembly was successfully lobbied by Ridesharing Works for Austin into supporting Proposition 1 last spring and spent hours debating an almost undoubtedly unconstitutional move to kick Young Conservatives of Texas off campus, thoughts on issues like these almost never show up in representatives’ platforms.

And when the students who were elected didn’t make vague and empty gestures, they made promises of actions they lacked the power to follow through on — or that undoubtedly didn’t deserve action. It may be for the better that SG didn’t spend their time on “an app specifically allocated for McCombs that includes a table of all business organizations,” “a program that matches Moody undergrads with ‘Moody Mentors’ who are older than them” or an “increase (in the) number of coffee makers in COLA.”

This is not to say that the representatives who made these promises have failed in serving the student body, or that every representative offered more than they could deliver. But a campus of over 50,000 students surely has more pressing issues to solve than the petty complaints of honors students and students with the minds to solve them.

In the next several weeks, during the first election and the runoff for executive alliance that will almost certainly come, the opportunity to dismiss the chaos will present itself. But giving in to that temptation — or mindlessly voting for a friend that promises free dry cleaning — will not solve any problems. Before the Feb. 14 filing deadline and after, we encourage you to ask what you want your university to become during the next year, and we hope you plan on working to make that future a reality.