Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 13, 1995

Only 20 Percent Turn Out for Student Council Election

By Mike Gluck

     The day after Student Council elections, Peter M. Dolkart
sat quietly behind the Union Desk in Levering. He answered the
phone and sold newspapers and gave directions to strangers, like
he usually does when he works the desk. It had been a long week,
and the end results did not please him. As chair of the Board of
Elections, Dolkart, a senior, had mounted an intense campaign to
get freshmen, sophomores and juniors to vote for next year's
Student Council officers. Yet, on election day, only one in five
students chose to do so. 

     In baseball, batting .200 is not going to earn you a
multimillion dollar Nike endorsement contract. It would barely
get you noticed. It's not that Dolkart didn't expect the dismal
turnout; it happens every year. He just hoped that the efforts of
his committee would this year bring the student body out in
greater numbers.

     "It really disappoints me," said Dolkart, who has served on
council during all four of his years at Hopkins. Perhaps the
banner attached to the voting table the previous day said it all-
-"Vote Today Please!" But, in the end, even politeness couldn't
bring voters to the polls. 

     One explanation he had for the low turnout is that there was
only one candidate for Student Council president, sophomore
Matthew Quigley, who won with about 60 percent of the vote. The
remainder were write-ins. But both the lack of significant
student participation in the election and the fact that there was
only one candidate point to a greater dilemma.

     Student Council has an image problem.

     Not with the administration, with whom they must work to
achieve gains for students, but with the student body itself. 

     Student Council's job, said Dolkart, is to improve the
quality of life for Homewood undergraduates. But many students
view council as an incohesive and mostly ineffective group that
suffers from a lack of leadership and purpose. Even current
council president James Eldridge concedes that the group's poor
image with students is an "incredible problem."

     Administrators, on the other hand, tend to have a more
sympathetic view of the students' governing body. Dean of
Students Susan Boswell applauded recent council efforts to
increase its visibility and power on campus.

     "I think Student Council has tried to be more active in the
last several years," she said. "I don't think students are happy
being apathetic anymore."

     Apathy is something that Eldridge has tried to combat during
the past year.

     By implementing a 10-point agenda and taking a more
proactive stance on issues such as the health clinic, food
service and career services, he has made efforts to shift
council's job from identifying to solving problems. He also is
pleased that the administration recognizes the accomplishments of
Student Council, even if the opinions of the two groups
occasionally differ.

     Eldridge has had a good relationship with the administration
during his one-year term, although he believes that they still do
not provide adequate money for student activities.

     "It seems like there's never enough money to meet all the
student needs," Dr. Boswell said.

     She does plan, however, to implement a 10 percent budget
increase for the 1995-96 academic year. 

     While students often take an "us versus them" approach with
the administration, many council leaders and administrators agree
that both groups can achieve more by working within the system.

     The university is willing to be responsive to student
issues, said William Smedick, director of Student Activities. 
     But the real issue, Smedick said, is that Student Council,
in order to be effective and improve its image, needs to continue
efforts to reach out to the students. Such efforts would raise
the visibility of council and likely bring it increased leverage
with the administration.   

     Given the already low turnout, some wonder whether Quigley
will have a solid enough foundation on which to do business with
the administration.

     Quigley is not pessimistic about the low voter turnout that
nudged him into office or about his potential ineffectiveness in
dealing with the administration. He believes that a few visible
accomplishments are all that are needed to turn around council's
image. He wants to make council a service-providing organization.
One way he wants to do that is to start a student shuttle to
Towson. He also wants to make the administration more financially
accountable for tuition and room and board fees. 

     But he probably won't push it. Like Eldridge, Quigley feels
that a nonconfrontational attitude with the administration is
usually the most constructive approach. While this lack of
student demands on the administration may add to the perceived
ineffectiveness of council, Quigley nonetheless prefers to work
with allies rather than enemies in order to achieve change.  

     With a strong outgoing president and an incoming leader who
plans to focus council's efforts on one issue at a time, the
group appears to be improving its position on campus.

     "They've had more exposure this year than they have in the
past," noted Jennifer Johnson, a senior who served on council her
first two years at Hopkins. 

     She too praised the recent publicity efforts, but questioned
whether fliers posted on campus that listed council's
accomplishments would not be better replaced by a publicized
specific agenda of what the group is working on for the future.  

     Despite some criticism, many members of council and
administration alike have characterized this year as the best for
council in recent memory. There are still problems, and Quigley
does not expect to solve everything in his one-year term. 

     But he also believes that, with a few solid accomplishments,
he can raise council's batting average and make its negative
image fade into the distance, just like a home run that arches
slowly above center field and soars over the bleachers before
disappearing out of sight.  

     Other winners in the elections included Jaydeep Kadam, vice
president for institutional relations; Karen-Faye Newman, vice
president of administration; Paul Narain, secretary; and Jason
Mussell, treasurer.

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