I’m going to write something here that might very well get four harmless Cal Poly students in trouble and cost them some cash.
Connor Paquin, Joi Sullivan, Jake Rogers and Will Blumhardt are running for ASI president. (ASI, short for Associated Students Inc., is the organization on campus that provides a range of educational and recreational services and is home to student government.)
According to the ASI Election Code, merely writing that announcement constitutes premature campaigning on their part and puts them in violation of The Rules, which leaves them at risk of punishments ranging from a warning to a $100 fine to outright disqualification from the race.
If this sounds completely stupid to you, join the crowd.
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The election policy is intended to level the playing field and prevent anyone from getting a jump on his or her competitors, a point ASI folks made repeatedly to Mustang News, Cal Poly’s student news organization. Candidates had until Feb. 28 to file for the race, but no one is allowed to begin “actively campaigning” until April 13, just 10 days before the vote.
“Active campaigning,” according to the ASI Election Code, “is defined as a nonverbal public display or distribution of specific information (physical or electronic) about any ASI candidate.”
So written communication is restricted to that 10-day window. But running around stumping on campus or speaking to clubs all year long is perfectly OK. How one is active and the other not is beyond me.
Here’s where it gets weirder, however.
As it is being enforced by ASI’s 10-member Recruitment and Development Committee, the policy applies not only to self-promotion, but any written mention of so-and-so’s name with a phrase like “candidate for ASI president.”
As a result, on campus over the last week, the policy has erupted into a cascading comedy of ridiculousness, starting when Mustang News wrote a story introducing some of the newly filed candidates, a couple of whom were then fined for getting mentioned by the press.
Mustang News then reported on the fines, and the candidates were held in violation again.
Then students started jumping in on social media and comment pages, and you can see where this is going. Now all four are in some form of violation. That’s how fast this policy went from bad to worse to certifiably asinine, careening over the edge in a furious display of student bureaucratic overzealousness.
The policy is not new. Last year, Mustang News published the names ahead of the “active campaigning” period as well, said Sean McMinn, Mustang Media Group editor, but the policy apparently was not enforced as it has been this time around.
ASI obviously has its heart in the right place in attempting to create a fair arena for competition, and apparently similar kinds of limits are common on college campuses, but this is not the way to do it.
Going beyond that and holding individual candidates financially responsible for the legitimate news-gathering and information-sharing duties of the media becomes nearly impossible to fathom.
It is not these students’ fault that someone may choose to write about them. You must separate the world they can control from the world they can’t.
Once they have formally filed and their names are on record, the issue of their candidacy should be fair game. (Actually, in the real world, they would be fair game at any point.)
Perhaps Cal Poly’s student government is right to limit the “active” period a bit leading up to the vote. The university needs only so many days of campaign posters littering the campus, after all, and I’m wondering if it’s not that issue that’s more the driver here than media coverage.
It’s also clear the policy should be revised to focus more on the true potential unfairness problem, which is students actively lobbying for votes — by whatever method — far ahead of the election.
Setting such parameters should not be difficult, and they should absolutely exclude cases in which the media is reaching out to candidates.
Basically, more discretion and sensibility is needed on behalf of ASI. Social media must be more thoughtfully accounted for, in all its vast, unruly beauty. And any punishments must be more carefully applied so that The Rule can achieve reasonable intentions without globally infringing on the rights of others.
Finally, to ASI, despite my statement above, please don’t slap any further sanctions on these students.
I don’t know them, I haven’t talked to them, and I don’t care who wins.
The only “active campaigning” at work here is me trying to write some words to get you to fix a silly policy.
ASI’s Recruitment and Development Committee’s next meeting is slated for today. Here’s hoping they loosen their interpretation of the Election Code to reflect more reasonable thinking.
Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joetarica.