Rackham Student Government elections began Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., and two Rackham student tickets are squaring off for the presidency and vice presidency.
RSG Treasurer Phil Saccone and Vice President Kaitlin Flynn have the upperhand in RSG experience as they challenge RSG board member Ryan Roberts and Dave Marvin, who is not currently affiliated with RSG.
Roberts was previously the president of the University of Michigan Engineering Council, the student government of the College of Engineering, and Marvin was formerly a steward with the Graduate Employees’ Organization. Marvin is currently a leader of the movement urging the University to divest all investments from fossil fuel industries.
Both groups expressed caution over pursuing graduate student secession from Central Student Government, an idea that was proposed in the fall. In the fall RSG elections, 69 percent of the 9.5 percent of Rackham students who voted supported pursuing secession.
While not taking a hard stance, Saccone said that secession is an option that should be delved into further. Still, he stressed that RSG should use the current channels to work with CSG.
“It’s important that we work on the levels that are now available with us with CSG, not just with the executives, but also with the reps that serve their graduate student body on CSG,” he said.
Flynn noted that she has had difficulty getting in touch with Rackham CSG representatives in the past, but that is by no means any indication of frosty relations with the assembly.
Roberts took an even softer approach to secession, saying an “intersection of our interests” exists between RSG and CSG he has been pleased with how the current administrations have interacted.
“If the next (CSG) administration is as amenable to cooperation and resolution as the current administration is, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue beyond our second week in office,” he said.
Marvin said secession isn’t an interest, but “it’s not off the table entirely.”
Both tickets said they support improving the career services provided to graduate students and better communication of the services currently provided. Both tickets also noted the influence of RSG with administrators, citing the recent change in Rackham’s GPA scale from 9.0 to 4.0 — which takes effect fall 2013 — as an example of an idea that originated within RSG and became a reality.
Flynn said if were Saccone and she to be elected, the Graduate Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities — a project that has been years in the making — would come to fruition.
“That’s a document that has been in the nascent stages and then growing ever since I joined the board,” Flynn said.
While there is currently an all-encompassing Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, Flynn said there are circumstances unique to graduate students that should be codified. She said the bill is modeled after similar documents at other Big 10 universities.
“In it we afford such rights as the right to professional development tools, or the right to appropriate training if you’re going to be giving a class,” she said, adding that the bill is close to being presented to administrators.
Roberts and Marvin’s campaign for the executive arm of RSG also introduces sustainability, a topic hat has not been highly stressed before by the body.
While the University has made promises about reducing greenhouse gasses, Marvin said it could do much more and RSG leaders can advocate for that. Roberts said he also wants to change the atmosphere within RSG and create new connections with segments of the Rackham population.
“There’s a culture to student government,” Roberts said. “If there’s an administration that’s running for three years solid, it’s going to have a certain set of connections that are made available.”
Robert said there is nothing wrong with the same administration consistently in power, but “there must be competition” to keep the election honest and keeps students active. Marvin agreed.
“What student, or graduate student especially, is going to log in to vote when they know the outcome ahead of time?” Marvin said.
Roberts said that collaboration among student governments on projects such as town halls or social events would be a goal of his administration. He also added that RSG needs to do a better job reaching out to its own students, noting that it has held public hearings this semester with one speaker at each hearing.
Marvin also contended that Saccone and Flynn’s history in RSG doesn’t translate to more experience in running a student government.
“Yes, (Saccone and Flynn) have that experience, but I think our dynamic is more fit for running a student government,” Marvin said. “Ryan has tremendous experience both at RSG as well as the Engineering Council … He knows how these governments run.”
Having served this past year as president, Flynn said her decision to run again for vice president instead of opting for the presidency was made with time in mind. She didn’t feel she would be able to dedicate the necessary time while accomplishing her duties as a student.
RSG president Michael Benson — now completing his third consecutive term — is not running for president, but he said whoever wins needs to be aware of the wide diversity of students in the Rackham Graduate School.
Benson said RSG has done well in connecting with students over the past year, but “there’s always room for improvement.” He also noted that he hopes to see the push for not just secession, but also for greater representation of graduate students to continue.
“The underlying point is no matter how it happens,” he said. “I want to see better representation for graduate students and I would like to see increased financial control for graduate and professional students of their fees.”
Benson, however, has shied away from using the word “secession,” saying that it isn’t the only option for graduate students.
“ ‘Secession’ carries something of a negative connotation,” he said. “When people hear secession they think back to the Civil War, and you know that wasn’t a great time.”