Congratulations, John LaBoda.
You just won the Students? Association Presidency by more than 200 votes and have the closest thing to a mandate that an SA president-elect has enjoyed in recent memory.
But how do you go from being a popular candidate to being an effective president? After all, current president Meng Wang was widely supported, yet became a laughingstock.
The key to being an effective president stems from a clear understanding of the nature of the office. Obviously, the SA presidency has extremely limited potential for influencing major university policy initiatives. At the same time, a skilled president can become much more than someone who the administration trots out for photo opportunities. A conciliatory, yet firm and consistent approach, realistic goals and good organization are the keys.
To put it bluntly, 1999-2000 president Scott Jennings successfully incorporated these traits in his presidency, while Wang did not.
When Jennings ran for president, he didn?t lay out grandiose plans, instead choosing to focus on the narrower objectives of online registration and reworking dining plans. True, he wasn?t able to accomplish them during his term, but he did set in motion the current reforms in dining plans, as well as extensive exploration of the option of online registration.
Besides, the central point is that they were realistic and focused objectives. Despite his calm style and limited program, Jennings also quietly exuded a fundamental belief in, and commitment to, the vitality of the UR community. When he met with the CT editorial staff, he left me with no doubt that he could establish a positive working atmosphere with administrators, yet effectively represent student concerns.
Wang, in contrast, seemed to campaign with a chip on his shoulder. He ran on a wide range of vague issues backed only by his reputation as the successful organizer of the Masquerade Ball and the Date Auction. His anti-administration rhetoric came off as harsh and whiny, as he bitterly complained about freshman housing and loudly asserted that UR students weren?t getting their $32,000 worth of an education.
When elected, Jennings quickly organized a cabinet representing a wide range of student viewpoints. More importantly, he kept that cabinet informed and delegated authority to its members in order to increase the productivity of his administration. In contrast, Wang abandoned the idea of a representative cabinet almost immediately after being elected.
Finally, the debate over freshman housing was Jennings? finest hour. He repeatedly gauged and tried to articulate student opinion in a vain attempt to lobby UR President Thomas Jackson to reject the Residential College Commission?s recommendations. In hosting a town meeting that drafted the official objection to the housing proposal, Jennings involved students directly in an issue that affected them.
But when Jackson endorsed the recommendations, Jennings stopped fighting the inevitable. In a Feb. 10, 2000 column in the CT, he denounced administrators for failing to take student opinion into account, but asked students to accept the decision. However, he still implored students to fight for the best possible freshman housing situation for UR.
The column illustrated Jennings at his best. He was a consensus builder who attempted to maintain open communication between faculty, students and administrators ? yet he still articulated and fought hard for the interests of his constituents.
But where Jennings was constructive, Wang betrayed students. After stressing his anti-freshman-housing stance, Wang?s first official statement to the CT in the fall was ?There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes and freshman housing.?
Although his resignation to that fact was understandable, his previous hard-line stance left him no room to seek a constructive middle ground. Nor did Wang fight aggressively for the majority of Special Interest Housing groups who were damaged by the change, leaving the pieces to be picked up by SA Senate Speaker Damon Dimmick, who met with the leaders of every group in September to discuss options.
With their respective records, it?s not surprising that Jennings left office with the respect of the student body, while voters sucker punched Wang?s inept administration at the ballot box. LaBoda would be wise to heed the contrasting lessons and results of the two administrations.
Good luck, Mr. LaBoda. The clock is ticking and UR students need you.