New UCS VP faces tough dynamic

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Michael MacCombie ’11 was elected vice president of the Undergraduate Council of Students in a runoff election against Ellen DaSilva ’10, UCS officials announced last night.

MacCombie received 336 votes, or 60 percent, while DaSilva, a Herald account manager, received 226 votes, or 40 percent. The runoff was necessary after neither candidate received 50 percent of the vote in the first election because of write-in ballots.

The results were announced at midnight on the steps of Faunce House.

“I am very excited about this,” said MacCombie, immediately after hearing the results by phone. He was not present at Faunce. “I’m kind of speechless right now.”

“I look forward to working with Michael next year,” said Brian Becker ’09, incoming UCS president. “I hope that Ellen will continue her interest and passion for working with the students.”

MacCombie inherits the responsibility of internal management of the council, which has few returning members to its executive board. This high turnover could make the job of next year’s council more difficult.

But President-Elect Brian Becker ’09 isn’t worried about the lack of returning council members.

“It’s very normal,” he said. “Year to year, it’s very rare to have experienced, veteran (executive board) members.”

None of the current committee chairs are serving on next year’s board. Only Ryan Lester ’11, elected appointments chair at the end of February, will remain on the executive board into next year. Two important positions, admissions and student services chair and campus life chair, are completely vacant because nobody ran for them.

“There’s not one member of the executive board who started the year on the executive board who will be serving on the executive board next year,” said Student Activities Chair Drew Madden ’10.

Not even Madden himself is returning. The student activities chair attends meetings four nights a week, he said, and it has been tiring.

“It’s been a very long year,” he said. “I just need a break from UCS.”

But Madden is concerned that the council could suffer from the lack of returning members, especially “in light of the code changes,” he said, referring to the referendum that abolished class representatives.

Academics and Administrative Affairs Chair Rakim Brooks ’09 is also not returning. Brooks said he believes that this year’s high turnover stems from the individual circumstances of members, not an endemic problem with the council.

“It’s definitely not the greatest thing in the world,” he said of the turnover. But “I think it’s something that’s very manageable” for Becker, he added.

Brooks also said that Becker should try to “jump start” next year’s agenda to guarantee that the vacancies are filled with enthusiastic members.

Upperclassmen leaving UCS isn’t a new phenomenon. At the beginning of this year, just seven of the council’s 28 voting members were juniors or seniors, The Herald reported in October.

Michael Glassman ’09, current UCS president, said part of the “perennial problem” of high turnover is the time commitment UCS membership requires.

“People are just burned out from the incredible work they put in,” he said.

Glassman cited other reasons that people choose to leave the council. For example, seniors don’t want to be “tied down” during their senior spring, and other members may want to explore other options at Brown, he said.

“UCS as an organization just has high turnover,” he said. It’s “something I wish we did a better job on,” he added.

Glassman said he doesn’t think UCS’ performance this year is to blame for high turnover, citing environmental initiatives, a recommendation for an increase in the student activities fee and an increased social fund for student groups as positive changes from the council this year.

UCS’s recommendations on the Plan for Academic Enrichment are “already having impact on the long-term planning” of the University, he said.

“I am really happy with the things we’ve done,” Glassman said. “There’s so many possible things you can do, and you can’t do them all,” he said, adding that he would do other things with a more “direct impact” on students if he had more time.

But Becker thinks the current UCS could have done more to encourage turnout for the vacant committee chair seats.

“If there are vacancies on the executive board, the current UCS failed to motivate people to run,” he said.

Becker said he thinks he can manage the turnover. “I have absolutely no concerns about filling those positions and getting stuff done,” he said.

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