Micah Wilkins, Staff Writer (mwilkins@wwc)
Student Caucus Co-Convener and senior Alexander Howard announced his resignation from the position last week. Howard will leave his post at the end of the semester and Caucus voting members will soon elect a new co-convener to take his place.
Howard sent a resignation e-mail to Caucus voting members Nov. 8 announcing his resignation and explaining his reasons for resigning.
“I have not come to this decision with ease or without a great deal of deliberation,” Howard stated in the e-mail.
According to the e-mail, Howard decided to resign after a meeting with the two other co-conveners, sophomores Kyja Wilburn and Ilinca Popescu, and senior Lacey Cunningham, a Government Task Force student representative. The co-conveners had a disagreement in ideologies over Student Caucus and whether it is the best system of government for Warren Wilson.
Howard believes Student Caucus is indeed the best form for the college and needs little-to-no alterations.
“I believe that the Caucus could eventually break 100 voting members without altering a single facet of its formal structure,” Howard stated in his e-mail.
The other co-conveners, Wilburn and Popescu, maintain that there is always room for improvement.
“We’re saying that it could be better,” Popescu said.
Wilburn agrees, stating that her job as co-convener is to improve the system that is already in place.
“I want to work on what we have and improve it and change it and help other people to improve it and change it,” she said.
Though it came as a surprise to Howard to find out that neither Popescu nor Wilburn found Caucus to be the ideal form of government for the college, the two co-conveners were not reluctant to confirm that they believe the system could use some work.
“I feel comfortable telling people that I don’t like the structure of Caucus,” said Wilburn. “It’s not something I’ve ever felt ashamed about or wanted to hide.”
Wilburn went on to say that she values equality and equal representation in government systems like that of Caucus and while she does not think that Caucus represents the whole student body, she, Popescu and Howard are all working as co-conveners to increase student participation in government.
“The way that I think about Caucus is informed by how I think of society at large,” Wilburn said. “I’m not interested in maintaining something that works for some people rather than [working for] as many people as possible. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that would jeopardize the [students’ participation in student government]. I’ve only sought to increase it.”
Howard, Popescu and Wilburn encountered a significant difference in ideologies at the meeting two weeks ago, but Popescu and Wilburn were surprised to learn of Howard’s resignation the following day.
“It wasn’t like we were expecting him to resign over that,” Popescu said.
However, Wilburn acknowledges, the meeting may have been only one of many reasons for Howard’s resignation.
“[The meeting] might have just been like a breaking point,” Wilburn said.
Here’s what Howard had to say about his resignation:
Q&A with Alex Howard:
How long have you been on Student Caucus?
This is my second semester as a Caucus member.
Why did you decide to join Caucus, and later to become a co-convener?
Being a voting member is why I wanted to join. It demonstrates that you’re going to keep coming to Caucus. At Dickinson [College, where Howard transferred from last year], the student government was made up of the future politicians of America. Our [Warren Wilson’s] system allows for anyone to participate. I found that reassuring. I see [Caucus] as the way to inform higher-ups about the way I feel about an issue.
Everybody at Wilson has an idea and almost all of them are good ideas. But it seems that we tend to complain about a problem, maybe propose a solution and then stop there. But the next step is to go to Caucus. The goal is to push other peoples’ agendas.
What are your responsibilities as co-convener?
My formal responsibilities are to maintain order at meetings and always be doing something. I need to be useful for the voting members, like finding proposals, putting out the agenda to the student body.
When did you decide to resign as co-convener?
Last Monday [Nov. 8].
Why did you make this decision?
Last Thursday [Nov.4], the student representative of the Government Task Force [Lacey Cunningham] came to [the co-conveners]. At the meeting, the sense that I got was that she didn’t have faith in Student Caucus to accurately or adequately represent the student body. I was the only one in the room who disagreed with the statement. I don’t have any issue with my fellow co-conveners, but this is a serious ideological flaw.
Student Caucus gains authority in the eyes of the administration based on the idea that we are the voice of the student body, and that’s where our power comes from. It’s one thing to say that about student Caucus, but it’s another thing to say that as an organizer of student Caucus.
The [other] Co-Conveners value student participation but they didn’t view caucus as the best system. If you don’t have faith in the system and you’re one of the organizers of the system, that’s a conflict of interest. I work 14 difficult hours and the payoff is the one hour spent in Caucus. I truly believe that Caucus is the best system. This type of direct democracy is best.
[I understand that] certain people in the student body don’t show up and aren’t represented. They’re as apathetic when it comes to participating in government. They think, “Why should I spend an hour a week bitching about the meal plans? We spend four years here and life’s too short.”
Five years ago, Caucus was eight people meeting in Sage on a Sunday night. We have 52 voting members now. It’s not a popularity contest — it’s voluntarily representing. I think [the 52 voting members] represent most of the views of the student body. It’s a sizable increase even from last year. [Caucus will continue to improve] if we keep on pushing meetings and joining Caucus. And there aren’t factions, there aren’t parties in Caucus.
I don’t think I can work in an office with people who don’t fervently believe in the system. It feels dishonest. [The co-conveners] are doing a bang-up job organizing but this is becoming a lot of work for not enough payoff.
Do you think this decision is for the best?
It’s the best for me. It’s a very selfish act — it’s an issue of my own wellness. I don’t think Caucus will fail without me, but I do think it rests on the organizers of Caucus, and it’s up to the voting members to protect Caucus and make sure that it stays strong. I am letting [the voting members] down, and that’s not for the best.
How do you think Caucus will continue without you as a co-convener?
It’s hard to tell because there will be at least one new co-convener. It depends on who’s going to run. My hope is that it’ll just get bigger and better by establishing precedent to keeping it strong. If I can leave the semester with my work done, then Caucus should be on solid ground next semester.
My gut feeling is that Caucus will be improving. If [the two current co-conveners] maintain their positions next semester, I think it will be in solid hands.
How have the voting members responded to the news of your resignation?
[Voting members] have mostly been supportive, but disappointed. People have expressed remorse at my resignation. But it’s not about the quality of the job I’m doing, but it’s about what I’m getting out of that job. Again, it’s a selfish act, but one that I have to do for my own well-being.