Yesterday I wrote a piece about USSA’s upcoming officer elections, which feature a somewhat rare contested race for the vice presidency. On Twitter last night, Berkeley delegate @kmmcbride responded: “in your post you say in the past the outgoing vice selects their successor? Isnt that #problematic ?”
It’s a good question and, as good questions often are, a somewhat complex question.
Certainly the situation I described isn’t ideal. But it has been, historically, an attempt to accommodate the multiple challenges that an organization like USSA faces in maintaining its student-led status.
USSA, more than most student organizations, depends on its elected leadership. As I noted above, it has no Executive Director or other long-term appointed staff. Because it is a national organization, its board of directors can play only a limited oversight role. Although it maintains institutional relationships with other groups, it doesn’t exist as an affiliate or subsidiary of any of them. And unlike many student organizations of the past, its officers have always served short terms of office and then moved on.
In a country where most national student organizations flame out after seven or eight years at the most, USSA has survived for more than six decades. But its continued existence is by no means guaranteed. A loss of confidence in the Association by its membership or reckless financial decision-making could destroy the organization within a very short time — and almost has, several times in the past.
So the USSA president and vice president have by necessity worked closely together, and the tradition of the vice president stepping up to the presidency after his or her term of office has evolved from that, as a mechanism for providing continuity within the Association. The “veep one year, president the next” setup, though entirely informal, has persisted without serious challenge in USSA for decades.
Which brings us to the question of how the vice president becomes vice president.
I know of no Congress since NSA became USSA in 1978 in which it has even been so much as alleged that the officer elections were anything but free and open. Any delegate has the right to run subject to the USSA constitution and bylaws, and elections are conducted according to fair and transparent procedures. Any influence which any officer — or anyone else — exerts in the process exists within that context.
But within that context, it’s reasonable and appropriate that the officers — particularly the outgoing vice president — should take an interest in who their successors will be. Under the “veep one year, president the next” setup, the Association’s future will most likely be in the hands of the winner of the vice presidential election in just a few short months.
And so the outgoing vice president has often taken on the responsibility of recruiting a strong candidate to run for his or her position, if no such candidate has stepped forward on his or her own. Remember that running for office in USSA means putting aside any other plans or opportunities you may have for that year — someone who is running as a serious candidate must be prepared to drop everything after the Congress and move to DC immediately if, and only if, they win. It’s not something that people tend to do on a whim. It’s a serious decision, not taken lightly.
So given that the outgoing vice president has a legitimate interest in making sure that there’s a strong candidate for that office — a worthy candidate who can gain the support of the membership — and given the immensity of the decision to run, it’s not surprising that it often happens that only one such candidate appears. It’s the natural result of a complex process. Problematic? In some ways, yes. But natural, and not unreasonable.
And of course this year, for the first time in recent history, there are two serious candidates for the USSA vice presidency. Each has, from what I’ve been able to gather in the last twenty-four hours, significant support among the delegates, and so far neither has been formally endorsed by either of the Association’s sitting officers.
It’s an interesting development, and a healthy one for the Association.