The student government at American River College in Sacramento has been having difficulty telling the difference between rendering to Caesar and rendering to God. (They get the two of them mixed up.) That confusion has now been resolved, the students at ARC having voted to sweep the dominant Slavic Christian coalition out of office. A slate of students calling itself ARC Students for Change triumphed in an election that boasted a staggering 9% turnout. (Yes, we're grading that on the curve because a typical school election sees ballots cast by only about 1% of the student body.)
My friend and former student “Steve” is a professor at American River College. He served as a poll worker in the two-day election. The college administration decided it would recruit faculty members to monitor the voting and validate student registration before handing out ballots. Since the student council incumbents were not particularly careful about following rules or discharging their responsibilities as elected officials, it was probably a prudent move by the ARC administration. Steve said that many voters had Russian-language fliers, indicating that they were probably supporters of the highly organized Ukrainian immigrant community that dominated campus politics during the past year. A joke going around on the Sacramento campus was that ARC stood for “A Russian College” (although Ukrainians are not necessarily fond of being described as Russians).
During the ascendancy of the extremely conservative Slavic Christians, the student council endorsed the anti-gay Proposition 8, decried the pro-gay National Day of Silence, and opposed a fund-raising rock concert on campus (most musicians being satanists and all). The recent campaign featured a pledge by ARC Students 4 Liberty (the slate formed by the incumbents and their allies) to support a Student Bill of Rights. That sounds harmless enough, until you find out that their notion of a student bill of rights is one that gives them the right to decide what the correct answers are in their classes. Does your astronomy professor say that the earth is 4.5 billion years old? Not a problem. You have a right to say it's only 6000 years old because God told you that. Did your anthropology professor try to teach you about human evolution? Scratch out Cro-Magnon in your textbook and write in Adam and Eve. See how that works?
Well, it didn't work. The Change slate took 14 of the 17 elective positions, including the presidency. The so-called Liberty slate tried its best to smear Change presidential candidate David L. Fisher by distributing a flier accusing him of drunk and reckless driving. Steve didn't know if there was any truth to the allegation, but it was a remarkably swift descent to the gutter. He pointed out that the Liberty candidates were quick to rip off the platform of the Change slate, since Change had made a textbook rental program a key campaign plank. The Liberty slate embraced it as if it was its own idea. (Apparently “Thou shalt not steal” does not apply to your opponents' political programs.)
The losing presidential candidate on the Liberty ticket, Yuriy Popko, declined to concede gracefully. He was quoted in the Sacramento Bee's on-line report as saying, “The administration and faculty have conspired to remove us from office since they don't approve of the image of ARC as having a conservative student body.”
The college president issued a statement Friday afternoon with some mild comments about the election:
This was a highly contested election with some strong disagreement among the candidates on the purpose and direction of student government at American River College. There were healthy discussions, and some less than positive, in which students learned directly about the nature of the democratic process and freedom of speech.As you can see, the college president was careful not to identify those who behaved badly during the campaign.
There is no doubt that debates and differences on issues will continue at ARC. While we promote open expression within the bounds of courtesy, sensitivity and respect, not all students have learned or exhibited these values. Our education process continues.
Steve agrees that the administration and faculty were probably pleased to see the defeat of Popko's slate. He, personally, was delighted. As far as any conspiracy goes, however, Steve said it was simply a matter of getting out the vote and monitoring the election to prevent cheating. Students received an e-mail reminder about the two days of voting (Tuesday and Wednesday) and the polls were kept open both days from 9:00 in the morning till 9:00 in the evening. Some teachers announced the start of balloting in their classrooms and a few offered extra credit for voting. Steve says that might be appropriate in a political science class, but he didn't offer any points to his algebra students. The Liberty slate immediately accused the faculty of offering extra credit for voting against the Liberty candidates, but Steven is certain no professor was foolish enough to do that. Just getting out the vote was likely to dilute the support for the right-wing Christian coalition—unless, of course, they were truly representative of the ARC student body.
It seems they weren't.