For the University Senate elections, we endorse no one.
The candidates running for seats in the University Senate who attended interviews with the Editorial Board on Sunday will be disappointed to see this editorial in place of one endorsing two candidates.
A series of unfortunate events, due to policies imposed by the Columbia College Student Council Elections Board, made it impossible for Spectator to suggest candidates in the 2011-2012 election.
After deciding we would endorse two candidates in the University Senate elections, the Editorial Board contacted the candidates to set up interviews. Complying with the prohibition against campaigning before April 4, the candidates waited to agree to meet in order to avoid a rules violation. After April 4, the candidates still running for seats agreed to be interviewed by the Editorial Board on April 10, the earliest possible date. Starting on Thursday, April 8, the Elections Board placed a series of constraints on Spectator’s freedom to decide to publish endorsements. Its initial requirement was that the endorsement be made public by 5 p.m. on Sunday, a prospect both logistically and ethically untenable. Though the Elections Board offered a range of compromises, none avoided the fundamental difficulty of deciding whom to endorse, composing the endorsement, and making it public on someone else’s schedule.
Though we were uncomfortable with compromising with CCSC Elections Board's stipulations, we at first considered trying to work with the board. However, interviewing the candidates, discussing and evaluating their respective strengths, and writing an editorial would have taken hours that the Elections Board's time limitations would seriously have abridged. It would have been unfair and unprofessional of the Editorial Board to reach a consensus so swiftly and without due process.
Furthermore, we object on principle to the conception that Spectator—or any independent news outlet—should have to answer to a governing body. The Elections Board’s actions reflect a profound misunderstanding of the relationship between the press and political entities. Though the Elections Board did not intentionally hinder our journalistic integrity, its unreasonable constraints had that effect.
In attempting to exert its authority over Spectator, the CCSC Elections Board exceeded its purview. Spectator, as an independent publication, is not affiliated with Columbia University or its student groups. Our endorsement of a candidate should have been completely unimpeded by the Elections Board.
We are mindful of the regulations surrounding elections, and took the necessary steps to ensure that no candidates would violate policy. However, it became clear that publishing an editorial that supported two candidates could lead to their disqualification, due to a ban on campaigning after 5 p.m. on Sunday. Spectator’s independence could not shield the candidates themselves from potentially disastrous consequences, and that was a risk that we were not willing to take.
The reason that the CCSC Elections Board exists—to ensure fairness in election processes—was counteracted by its de facto censorship of our endorsement. The University Senate elections, which are as important if not more so than those of CCSC, are not as publicized as their Student Council counterparts. As Columbia’s legislative body, the University Senate arguably has more power to effect change than CCSC, making these elections all the more significant. The interviews that the Editorial Board held with the candidates could have publicized important information about their stances and platforms not included in official statements or Facebook groups. Our intention was to encourage informed participation in an election that we deem important to our community.
Columbia University, of all institutions, should be a place where journalistic independence and integrity are held sacrosanct. Other than being unfair to the candidates running for University Senate by depriving them of the chance to be officially nominated by Spectator, the process in place made light of those values we hold dear.
The media traditionally plays a central role in elections—and this should be no different at Columbia. As many of the candidates expressed, the University Senate stands at a crossroads in Columbia’s history. Its work to pass the ROTC resolution demonstrated the University Senate’s ability to effectively gather opinions and make proactive decisions. In comparison to the legislative bodies at our peer institutions, it’s clear that the University Senate has a uniquely privileged position.
CCSC Elections Board, we hope that next year you will re-evaluate the way that official rules and regulations are interpreted so that they do not work against the interests of those hoping to make Columbia a better institution and community.