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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