Peter Crane, an Endorsement
Issue   |   Wed, 04/02/2014 - 00:49

Elections are one of my least favorite times of the year. They are a time when beliefs are asserted with nonchalant indifference to present and past behavior, people are uncomfortably lumped into “voting blocks” and everyone involved leaves feeling vaguely defiled. As a senator, I’ve definitely had to cope with my share of elections, so when one occurs in which I’m not a candidate, and therefore obliged to participate, I am more than happy to keep my distance. However, on the occasion of the upcoming presidential elections, I find myself compelled to participate.

The general consensus on campus seems to be that the AAS presidency is not a particularly high stakes issue — it is (hopefully) interesting enough to click on the elections link and vote, but nothing to lose sleep over really. This is something that I have to constantly remind myself of since I’ve been on AAS through my college career thus far, but most of campus gets along without interacting with the president on a regular basis. This is identified as a problem and leads to a song and dance about openness, approachability and promises to represent various groups every time a presidential election comes along. Candidates are suddenly ubiquitous around campus; you can’t walk five feet without encountering one. Friendliness, likeability and accessibility are the qualities chosen to highlight.

These are definitely important characteristics for members of student government to have, but I would argue that they are less important in a president than in a senator. It is the latter really whose job it is to feel the pulse of various constituencies, be immediately and consistently aware of the needs of the students they represent and advocate for them. The president can definitely attempt to do this, but one person cannot be a match for thirty-two representatives spread across four classes, no matter how open and approachable he or she might be. A president who truly sought to represent the interests of as wide a range of students as possible would tap into the rich and diverse source of information they find in senators more often than attempting to do the field work for him or herself. This would ideally mean that the president had been a senator in the past, or at the very least, was able to work well with them.

My problem with the focus on likeability and approachability is that they are emphasized at the cost of characteristics that are in my mind more crucial for the president to have — experience navigating committees comprising faculty, administrators and students, competence handling both long term systemic issues and problems that emerge in moments of crisis and a set of beliefs that is not merely a function of popular opinion, but at the same time is responsive to the needs of the time. The president’s job is often either disparaged as not being very important, or misconstrued as primarily needing to be a “friendly face” as described earlier, but in reality the president has an extremely crucial role to play in the present and future Amherst experience. They are often invited to be a part of committees (like the Strategic Planning committees whose findings will not only impact current students, but have an effect on Amherst for years to come) as one of the few, if not only student faces in the room, and their judgment on various issues is greatly trusted as being in sync with the needs and best interests of the student body. They are often the first student consulted in moments of crisis, and their response is heavily weighted in the final decision on how to respond. They are able to create a presidential cabinet and bring voices to the table that appear to be missing, or poorly represented, and add functions that aren’t being carried out by the present government.

Clearly, this is not an easy job, nor is it one with low stakes. The president can influence policy and action on issues as significant as sexual assault, wealth disparities between students, academic experience, housing, mental and physical health, inclusion of marginalized communities and allocation of resources and facilities. It really does matter who gets to do this job. I am choosing to endorse Peter because over the last three years he has shown himself capable of navigating the dizzying complexity of being president. Having served with him on senate for two years, I have seen him consistently not only care about but act on issues of income disparities (he pioneered the shuttle system to Boston, New York City and Bradley that allows students for whom it might otherwise not be affordable to be able to get home), marginalization and diversity (as part of the space-allocation committee, he advocated for the MRC and WGC move to their current, non-closet sized spaces), fun and accessible entertainment (as a long standing e-board member of CAB and program board he brought us Casino Night, Groove Boston, and of course, Macklemore), sexual assault (he participated at several protests and discussions around the issue with me) and enabling sense of belonging for all (he founded the Traditions committee that’s working to establish traditions that unite rather than alienate). Peter cares about the right stuff, but more importantly, has shown that he is willing and able to skillfully act on his beliefs. He has shown his dedication and willingness to go beyond that which is required of him as a senator, student and friend, time and time again. All of the aforementioned considerations win Peter Crane my vote for AAS Presidency, and I hope they do yours too.

Andrew Lindsay '16 (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/02/2014 - 10:10

We live in an Amherst College where knowledge about the AAS is little to none. Individuals either only see the body as solely a student funding organization or people are ignorant to the functions of the body as a whole. I think the task for the AAS President this year will be bridging the knowledge divide between senators and students. The key task is for the AAS this year is to distribute knowledge about itself and its functions, as opposed to centralizing this knowledge within the AAS E-Board and student senators. Approachability will be key in doing this. The President shouldn't be a robot with only the ability to communicate with the AAS and administration but should be in sync with the direct needs of the student body. As you said, the President is generally the person that is construed by individuals in power to represent the needs of the entire student body, especially in times of crisis. In contrast to your opinion about senators, I believe that based on the President's role as campus representative it is his or her "job it is to feel the pulse of various constituencies, be immediately and consistently aware of the needs of the students they represent and advocate for them."
I think the more administrative role that you argue is more important for the president to have within senate is already the role of the Vice-President based on the AAS constitution. The Vice-President is the president of the AAS. The president is the spokesperson on behalf of the AAS and student body. Approachability is key for this role. When one looks at the distinction between these two roles in the by-laws one sees that the President's true task is represented through the pulse of the student body (The President has veto power over the student senate to keep the body in check), while the Vice-president's role is more suited to administration and presiding over student senate.
I think the President's job is not best suited to one campus demographic (current/past senators), I think that the role is far more open and personality based than you let on.

Shruthi Badri (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/02/2014 - 14:42

You speak as though senators were not also students that require some degree of interpersonal ability to interact with ("robot with only the ability to communicate with..."). It is fashionable I think to denote senators as being their own constituency, and somehow alienated from the 'real' student body, but nothing could be further from the truth. Senators aren't chosen by the administration or through some kinds of despotic means - they are elected by the same student body that votes in the president! A president who is disconnected from senate is not just disconnected from 32 arbitrary students on campus, but rather from the *elected representatives* of the student body at large. My argument is not that the knowing the 'pulse of the student body' is irrelevant to the president's job, but the opposite - it is so critical that no one person should trust themselves with being able to garner it all on their own.

My larger point is simple: what use is it knowing exactly how students feel if you do not have the experience or knowledge to move from theory to practice?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/02/2014 - 22:18

"I think the President's job is not best suited to one campus demographic (current/past senators), I think that the role is far more open and personality based than you let on."

Quite frankly, if the President is not familiar with AAS policy and procedure they have little to no chance of accomplishing anything noteworthy. When the majority of the next President's first semester is bridging the gap between their own expectations about what the AAS -- and they -- are capable of doing with the reality of the situation, the time left to enact change is relatively small.

More importantly, it's unclear to me why Peter is not personable enough to " be in sync with the direct needs of the student body" or "represent the needs of the entire student body". You seem to be hinting that other candidates would be better for the job, which I take no issue with, but you've failed to show why Peter does not exhibit the characteristics you describe. That you disagree with Shruthi's understanding of the role of the Presidency in no way discredits Peter.

Informed Voter (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/02/2014 - 10:13

Those are all fair points, but this is the same man responsible for choosing Icona Pop to headline Spring Concert. Is that really the kind of person we want leading us? Who cares about income disparities, marginalization and diversity, sexual assault, or enabling a sense of belonging for all? I just don't like Icona Pop, and everyone knows that Spring Concert is the only thing that really matters.