Editorial: Dear EWU staff, stay out of our elections

The Easterner

By The Easterner, Editorial Board

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The 2019 ASEWU student election had a little more drama than normal, and both the school and ASEWU need to take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

As a refresher, Key Baker won the ASEWU presidency by 11 votes on April 26. Reilly Responte then filed a grievance, claiming Baker campaigned in the classroom. The ASEWU election board rejected the complaint. Responte responded by appealing to the ASEWU Superior Court. He later dropped the appeal and Baker became president elect. 

Responte’s complaint stemmed from a Canvas message sent by an EWU staff member on the Africana Studies’ Canvas page. The Canvas page was not attached to a specific class, but instead to the entire program. The message told program members to not forget to “vote for Key.” Responte argued the Canvas page should count as “in the classroom.” The ASEWU election board did not agree.

The Easterner’s editorial board is not too worried about this definition, but we do feel that ASEWU should clarify the issue moving forward so that this doesn’t happen again.

The bigger issue is an EWU staff member meddling in ASEWU student elections. The message was sent by Christina Lonning, a program coordinator for the Africana Studies program. That’s what bothered Responte the most.

“A staff member got involved in the ASEWU student election,” Responte told The Easterner’s Jeremy Burnham after the hearing on May 7. “That’s what really upsets me … She doesn’t pay tuition. She’s not a student. She’s a paid staff member and she endorsed a candidate in student elections.”

First, we agree with the election board’s decision. Responte did not offer any proof that Baker had anything to do with the message. Holding Baker responsible for a message sent by someone else is beyond unfair, therefore, we feel Baker is the rightful winner of the election. We also agree with the election board’s assertion that Lonning does not fall under ASEWU’s jurisdiction, therefore, ASEWU cannot punish her behavior.

But that doesn’t change the fact that a university staff member meddled in the election. The elections are for students to choose their leaders for the upcoming school year. These student leaders represent the voice of their peers when communicating with the university, and should not be chosen by the university, or any of its staff. University staff should stay out of the picture completely.

While there might not be anything ASEWU can do, EWU can, and should, issue a rule forbidding its employees from attempting to influence ASEWU elections.

The elections are for students to choose their leaders for the upcoming school year. These student leaders represent the voice of their peers when communicating with the university, and should not be chosen by the university, or any of its staff.”

— The Easterner Editorial Board

In the hearing, Lonning insisted she did nothing wrong, noting that she is not a professor and doesn’t teach any classes. However, she did teach classes as recently as fall quarter 2018, and those classes were in the Africana Studies program. This means the message she sent out was read by some students who appeared in her classroom, and who may still see her as an authority figure. She used her position to tell her students who she wants them to vote for.

“Number one, it didn’t violate any bylaws,” Lonning told The Easterner after the hearing.

Fine, she’s right. ASEWU can’t make bylaws that university staff has to abide by. That doesn’t mean her actions weren’t wrong.

“Now I realize there are people out there who are willing to twist bylaws to fit their own agenda,” Lonning continued. “So as far as (supporting another candidate in the future), I would probably think twice about it. Just for that reason, not because I did anything wrong.”

Well, at least she seems willing to do the right thing, even if it is for the wrong reason.

This editorial board urges EWU President Mary Cullinan to see to it that the school enacts a rule forbidding university staff from attempting to influence student elections. This rule should be passed before the next elections and announced so that students can rest assured that their elections are fair and safe from employee meddling. •

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