Lauren Mitchell is leading the race for president of the University of Minnesota’s Council of Graduate Students against her opponent: no one.
Meanwhile, the Professional Student Government doesn’t even have a presidential candidate.
The low participation is becoming an annual tradition for graduate and professional student government.
Concerns over time commitment, scheduling changes and lack of value to potential candidates may all contribute to the scarcity of candidates, representatives from both groups say.
“They’re big roles,” said COGS president Nicholas Goldsmith. “I think people are going to be hesitant to run for them, given the time commitment.”
Days after filing, Robert Dube withdrew his candidacy for PSG president.
“There’s no way I can juggle the jobs, the volunteering, all these things and then add PSG on top of it,” he said.
Dube, a full-time student who has two jobs and serves on the Law Council, is not currently a PSG member. He said he wasn’t originally interested in running, but filed after a PSG member asked him to run since no one else was.
His vice presidential running mate, Keerthanaa Jeeva, reluctantly filed, and while she has no interest in running as president, she said she would still run for vice president if needed.
Without a formal candidate, the election would go to whoever gets the most write-in votes.
As of Wednesday evening, PSG vice president Dane Thompson said no PSG members have announced a write-in campaign. PSG may ask the All Campus Elections Commission (ACEC) for a deadline extension for candidate filing to simplify the voting process, he said.
PSG president Max Hall said he will encourage PSG cabinet members to run at its next meeting.
The ACEC is still determining the status of the PSG debate scheduled for Feb. 21, said ACEC public relations officer Tommy Keller.
At the COGS town hall on Feb. 20, sole presidential candidate Lauren Mitchell will lay out her platform, which includes making participation in the government easier and more rewarding.
Mitchell, who is running enthusiastically, said burnout has always been a factor for COGS. Trying to help students find balance between work, life and student government is a way to help, she said.
“I think sometimes people need to feel licensed to say no to things,” Mitchell said. “Once COGS is able to move past the specter of burnout … that’s going to do a lot for us in terms of participation.”
A history of burnout
Current PSG and COGS presidents say their groups have suffered from low participation because of its high time commitment and low professional value.
Undergraduate student government is a boon to resumes, but the value is diminished at the graduate level, Hall said.
Jeeva, the PSG vice presidential candidate, said her involvement as PSG speaker and president of the School of Public Health’s Student Senate has hindered her professional development.
“A lot of the other things I should’ve had already, like internships, are on the backburner,” she said.
Professional and graduate students also are more likely than undergraduates to have family commitments and live further away from campus, he said.
While it is rewarding to hold a presidential position and meet many different people, representing 8,000 students can be taxing, Goldsmith said.
“You simply can’t do everything you hear is a need, and that’s difficult,” he said.
COGS officer positions don’t really prepare candidates for the job, Goldsmith said.
Both Hall and Goldsmith approached people about running, but professional concerns caused the candidates to decline.
They said ACEC’s decision to move the election to earlier in the year was a factor as well.
“It just left people with a shorter amount of time to consider it and think through whether or not they want to run,” Hall said.
In an email, Keller said the scheduling changes did not affect participation in the elections.
In recent years, graduate and professional student government have had low turnout for presidential candidates.
In 2015, the then-combined Graduate and Professional Student Assembly split into two separate bodies — COGS and PSG — to help distinguish professional and graduate student differences and needs.
Since the split, COGS has had three straight unopposed elections, and this will be the second out of three years PSG has an unopposed election.
In 2014, GAPSA had two candidates. And in 2013, GAPSA had three separate candidates for its election, but two withdrew before the election.