Focus shifts from Pilchen to VP spot

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September 5, 2008

10:51 AM

Former Student Assembly Vice President Zach Pilchen ’09 was the first to arrive at Tuesday’s SA meeting. He was unshaven and seemed exhausted, but was nevertheless his trademark cheerful self; he chatted amicably with reporters and senators.

The SA was accidentally scheduled to meet in Tucker 213, a small room intersected by a column. As the group gathered, everyone skirted around the elephant in the room, discussing classes, the Caf and anything unrelated to Pilchen’s imminent resignation. Senators, executive branch members, student media and observers filled the room over capacity; Class of 2009 President Kevin Dua sat with others on the floor after seats ran out.

Pilchen, the smile gone from his face, read a prepared statement announcing his resignation to a silent room. After finishing, Pilchen stood and left. In an unsettling reminder of the SA’s slow reaction time, Pilchen’s placard, the only item remaining behind, still identified him as the SA President.

SA President Valerie Hopkins ’09 stood, briefly addressed her feelings about Pilchen’s resignation and answered a few questions about how she would select a replacement. Hopkins’ emotional voice revealed her conflicted sentiments. She said she respected Pilchen for resigning, but she was clearly disappointed in her colleague and friend.

Although Pilchen’s future is still uncertain, attention has shifted to filling his position. Hopkins’ committee has 14 academic days — until Monday, Sept. 22 — to find a new vice president.

That’s no small task. For starters, Hopkins has opened the process to the entire campus. Many students approached SA members in the days after Pilchen’s resignation to express disappointment in the SA. Hopkins sent an e-mail to students yesterday announcing the application process, but she will not publicly discuss her thoughts on who the candidates might be or the qualities she hopes they possess. She could be looking to bring in a non-SA replacement who could provide a fresh eye and extend an olive branch to the student body.
But there are several SA members who could be top contenders for the spot. After comparing a list of likely candidates produced by The Flat Hat with a list from an SA insider who spoke under condition of anonymity, several SA members emerged as possibilities.

The most likely senior possibilities are all ineligible: Sens. Matt Beato ’09, Walter McClean ’09 and Caroline Mullis ’09 were barred from applying by Hopkins because they took part in the Pilchen investigation. Dua is ineligible because he is on the search committee. The only remaining major senior candidates are SA Chief of Staff David Husband ’09 and Vice President for Advocacy Kristen Slawter ’09. Husband, though experienced, is a longtime SA insider and was essentially Pilchen’s right hand man.

More likely is a member of the junior or sophomore classes. A special consideration in choosing a junior or sophomore vice president would be the inevitable boost that person would receive should they choose to run for president in the spring. In fact, some might use this opportunity as a diving board to gain recognition.

One possibility from the junior class is Sen. Ross Gillingham ’10, who received over two-thirds of his class’s vote in the spring election, beating second Sen. Sarah Rojas ’10 by 14 points. Also, he is hardly an SA insider; Gillingham has served less than a quarter of his first senatorial term.

One problem facing Gillingham is his membership in Alpha Epsilon Pi, Pilchen’s fraternity, and his friendship with Pilchen. Hopkins is likely hesitant to choose someone with close ties to Pilchen.

The other major possibilities from the junior class are Rojas and Class President Ali Snell ’10, who have both emerged as SA leaders. Snell, however, told The Flat Hat she is not interested in the position.
Rojas is a member of Chi Omega, along with Hopkins. With such close scrutiny from the student body, choosing Rojas could look like favoritism, something Hopkins likely wants to avoid.

The sophomore class has even fewer obvious options. Class President Jazmine Piña ’11 told The Flat Hat that she has not yet decided whether or not she will seek the spot. Sen. Ben Brown ’11 is another possibility.
Ultimately, Hopkins must choose between an SA member with student government experience or an off-the-radar recruit who could provide fresh insight into an SA that has been called guarded and inaccessible. If Hopkins chooses a non-senior, that choice would almost certainly have a leg up in this spring’s SA elections.

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