There’s almost no denying this Student Association election has been a total disaster. From the alleged intervention of non-university affiliated political groups to the recent mudslinging between the two major presidential candidates, this campaign cycle has begun to look more like a scene from a Michael Moore documentary than a student government election. Some may believe the remedial actions the SA has taken in the past few weeks, the appeal of the election to the University Court and the reworking of SA bylaws to disallow third-party funding, solved these problems. This is simply not the case. The recent resignation of Director of Elections Taylan Tuncata is proof.
Let’s review past Rice elections. In 2014, the Student Association Elections Committee gave any student with a NetID access to the SA election ballot, allowing some alumni and graduate students to vote. University Court found the SA Elections Committee excluded a McMurtry College senior from voting and held non-transparent meetings about student campaigns. UCourt decided all three of these charges violated the SA constitution and ordered the SA to rehold the election. Despite this fiasco, no one on the SA Elections Committee was forced to resign.
So why did Taylan Tuncata resign? In his resignation letter, Taylan cited violations of Sections XII.B.4 and XII.A.3. of the SA constitution as the official reason for his stepping down. These sections describe ambiguous and vague regulations on balloting and voting eligibility. For instance, the constitution defines eligible voters as “members of the Student Association” and Student Association members as “all currently enrolled undergraduate students.” Is a student taking a semester off an enrolled undergraduate? Is a 50-year-old Houstonian taking a three-hour art class an undergraduate? These are hard questions to answer even by senior members of the SA administration. So why was Tuncata, a wide-eyed and excited First-Year Representative, forced to take the fall for vague policies overlooked by even senior members of the administration? It certainly does not sound like the culture of care. It sounds like leaders of the SA covering up their own mistakes by blaming an easy scapegoat.
My goal is not to defame the SA or any of the presidential candidates. I wish to underscore that it’s the SA’s duty to investigate and resolve any potential conflicts of interest and give all its members equal treatment especially in cases with precedents. Where in this case is the transparency and student engagement SA leaders constantly tout as their core principles? SA President Griffin Thomas has already denied allegations of favoritism towards write-in candidate and current SA External Vice President Hannah Todd, but if he sincerely means this, why does he not offer a better account of the events before the resignation of Tuncata? Why did presidential candidate Justin Onwenu allege that Thomas has a “vested interest” in giving Todd a chance at a full campaign by nullifying this election?
So, who does the SA work for? Does it work for the president and the elected administration? Does it work for only the senators and representatives who choose to closely follow presidential directive? I don’t know. I do know Taylan Tuncata was a dedicated and passionate member of the SA and the Rice community whose reputation was needlessly tarnished. No election is worth the defamation of a Rice student. No election is worth undermining democracy and basic human kindness. And what is especially clear is that the SA most definitely did not work for Taylan Tuncata.
Matthew Archibald, Will Rice College freshman