Questions Regarding SBC Chair Appointment Process Reveals Lack of Awareness About Policy Changes

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This year, the number of questions surrounding the selection process for the Student Budgeting Committee Chair can be traced to a general lack of awareness about the appointment process, which underwent radical changes this semester through newly introduced collaboration between Student Council and SBC.

Two weeks before spring break, former SBC Chair Jacob Adenbaum ’14 announced his intention to step down. He gave two weeks notice to allow StuCo enough time to find an adequate replacement for his position.

The role of the SBC Chair is arguably one of the most important paid positions on campus. The SBC Chair runs and schedules SBC meetings, collects proposals from student groups, reviews the proposals prior to SBC meetings, acts as a liaison and representative to whoever needs to communicate with SBC – including the Dean’s Office, student groups, and the rest of the administration – and ideally serves as a keeper of institutional memory to guide SBC processes.

The SBC Chair is a pay grade three position and is generally paid for 10-15 hours per week. However, according to Adenbaum, “on the average week, I’ll put in between 15 and 20 hours. For the amount of time that it takes to do the job, it’s a remarkably underpaid position.”

Toby Levy ‘16, the current SBC Chair, is also expected to help draft the parts of the StuCo constitution pertaining to the SBC.

The appointment process this year was a departure from previous years because in the past, the SBC Chair was usually a long-standing member of SBC. The sitting and future SBC Chairs would have enough time to build off their working relationship, with the sitting SBC Chair training and prepping the future SBC Chair with no involvement from StuCo.

However, with 100 percent SBC turnover this year, “there was no one who had been on the committee for two years and who had [gone through] spring budgeting. Spring budgeting is when you get the big picture, you see everyone’s budget, you see how all the pieces fit together, that’s 80% of SBC’s work. There was no one on the committee who had been through spring budgeting before, and so unfortunately that meant that there wasn’t an obvious choice from the committee,” Adenbaum said.

These circumstances prompted the selection committee to look outside of SBC. There is no written protocol for the SBC Chair turnover process and in the past the Chair position has always been treated like any other hired position on the SBC. That is, when a manager position opens up, for example, the SBC simply puts out a call for SBC members to join a hiring committee, which usually includes three or four SBC members and the Chair.

Thus entered the major change in policy this year: a shift from an internal, less “official” appointment process to one with more collaboration and a set protocol. Adenbaum, in a mutual decision with StuCo Co-Presidents Lanie Schlessinger ’14 and Jason Heo ‘15, formed a selection committee comprised of themselves plus current SBC Manager Yein Pyo ‘16.

This decision was a step towards hopefully democratizing the hiring process, which is set to become permanent in StuCo’s draft constitution, to be ratified in the coming weeks.

When asked whether there have ever been concerns from the student body about the process being undemocratic, Adenbaum said, “I think there has never been enough of an understanding of the position and how it gets selected for anyone to have an informed opinion. I don’t think it was something that people really paid attention to, even though, quite frankly, people really should have.”

On March 3rd, applications were sent out for the SBC Chair position. The selection committee received two applications, neither of which they found suitable. The deadline was then extended twice, on March 17 and March 27. Questions were brought up by various students about why some candidates did not receive interviews and why the deadline was extended so many times. David Ding ’16 raised this issue in an op-ed in the Daily Gazette last week, and Paul Cato ’15 said, “I do know they had legitimate candidates who applied. Different groups that I am involved in went and reached out to individuals to get them to apply, we helped them with their applications and things like this, so we know there were qualified applicants.”

In response to these questions Adenbaum responded, “At each stage up until Toby applied, we didn’t think that any of the candidates were viable. The reasons in all of the cases were extraordinarily compelling as to why these particular candidates weren’t viable.”

“[We] actively solicited people that we thought would be good for the position, people that we thought would be viable candidates. I can’t tell you how many people I talked to. In the third round of applications, Toby applied and he was the best candidate of all the applications that we got, so he was appointed,” Adenbaum continued.

In regards to how candidates were solicited, Heo said, “We encouraged all the StuCo members to tap people because we wanted the best pool. We definitely asked everyone on SBC and I don’t think anyone was really open. StuCo members also weren’t as interested.”

It is still unclear whose decision it actually was when it came to selecting the Chair. Adenbaum stated that his and Pyo’s role in the selection process was simply advisory, thus setting the precedent of designating the responsibility of making the ultimate decision to the two appointment committee members with the least amount of SBC experience.

As many students have pointed out, Levy and Schlessinger are currently dating. According to Adenbaum and Heo, Schlessinger immediately recused herself from the selection process as soon as it was announced that Levy was intending to apply. This means she sat in on Levy’s interview while remaining silent throughout, but participated in deliberations immediately following, only answering technical questions posed by the selection committee.

This would imply that the SBC Chair decision was largely up to Heo once Schlessinger had recused herself. When asked whether he was the only one participating in the decision-making, Heo answered, “I don’t know what you would call ‘participating in the decision-making.’ We were all in consensus about the decision. It wasn’t necessarily just me picking this person, you know? Yein has to work with him, so obviously her input was important. And then Jacob is Jacob, so his input was also important. ”

Despite the controversy surrounding the changes in the SBC Chair appointment procedure, many people after talking with Levy have been confident in his ability to run the SBC. Cato said, “I think Toby will be a good SBC Chair, it’s just the way they went about this, it was done completely improperly and it sets bad precedent.”

In characterizing the process, Adenbaum summarized, “This process was kosher. It’s hard because the Chair is a really sensitive position and there are a bunch of qualifications for it and there are lots of reasons that someone would not be a viable candidate for Chair. It is exceptionally difficult to find someone who wants to do it in the first place. It’s a lot of work and I think on the whole, it’s worth it. It’s been an immensely rewarding experience for me.”


  1. That’s pretty strange:

    “This decision was a step towards hopefully democratizing the hiring process, which is set to become permanent in StuCo’s draft constitution, to be ratified in the coming weeks.”

    How can you use a process that hasn’t been approved/ratified through the Constitution yet?
    Isn’t that jumping the gun? Through what approved Constitution does this Student Council derive its authority to take this action?

  2. So Lanie recuses herself during the interview, but…

    1) Why it took Toby so long to apply? Did anyone convince him to do so?

    2) Did Lanie and Toby ever talk about the hiring/interview process before he applied? If Lanie knew what all the other interviewers were looking for, what was stopping her from ‘encouraging’ Toby to emphasize those sort of qualities?


    3) Does a 100% turnover rate of SBC members suggest something was wrong with the committee? I’d like know the average/historical turnover rate of SBC members. Maybe if there wasn’t such a high turnover rate a Chairperson could have been selected from the committee itself.

    4) Why wouldn’t a sitting member, let along THE ONLY STUDENT ELECTED MEMBER of SBC not even get an interview? Not saying that he was the most qualified, but it’s almost a matter of principle to give him a chance.

  3. Look, it seems evident in this article and the selection committee that Levy was the best fit, relationship or not. We needed a chair member and Toby delivers. Their relationship is none of our business– it seems inappropriate, even petty, that we’re raising it as a public issue up for discussion.

    These are two people who are a part of our small campus community, and who have been great at doing their jobs thus far. They don’t deserve to be harshly scrutinized. Lanie recused herself and it’s evident that she tried to be an unbiased part of the process, if at all. Let’s just take this for what it is and give them the benefit of the doubt.

    • Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt just like those other applicants were given the benefit of the doubt when they received an interview despite their applications being less than stellar in the eyes of the selection committee.

      Oh wait…..

    • >> Look, it seems evident in this article and the selection committee that Levy was the best fit, relationship or not.

      No, it is not ‘evident’. That is the reason this is such a big deal. It’s not evident because not only did the process remain fairly secretive until people started making noise, but also because some people were discriminated against. David and Jason were simply not given interviews. We don’t know how they would have done, had they been given the chance that they deserved. So it’s not evident that Toby was better than him – because he was given an actual chance to argue his case, but his opponents were not.

      >> We needed a chair member and Toby delivers.

      Really? What does/has he delivered? Perhaps you mean that we needed a chair, and Toby is now chair, meaning that he’s delivered (In which case, I grant you, sure, but whoop-de-doo, a gerbil appointed to chair would have ‘delivered’)- but otherwise, Toby has done fairly little so far. I don’t say this out of animosity towards Toby, but he simply hasn’t been on the job for long.

      >> Their relationship is none of our business– it seems inappropriate, even petty, that we’re raising it as a public issue up for discussion.

      Normally, I would agree wholeheartedly. If applicants had all received equal treatment – heck, had all received interviews – it wouldn’t be relevant whether or not one of the candidates was involved with one of the people making the decision.

      Unfortunately, though, candidates did not receive equal treatment. It would seem to me that Toby received preferential treatment. He got an interview – neither David nor Jason got even that much. He also had the benefit of getting a deadline twice extended, even when two people, apparently hard working, dedicated, intelligent folks, had already submitted applications.

      So you’ll excuse me if I find it a little odd that out of a group of people, one got preferential treatment, and that one person happened to be dating a president of StuCo. I’m not saying this was well thought out, purposefully corrupt, or malevolent – but lack of preplanned intent doesn’t excuse this abuse of power and mistreatment of qualified candidates.

  4. Here’s the thing. The committee judged the other two candidates as unsuitable before Toby even applied. So there’s no reason to think that there was any particular bias in that decision. It’s reasonable that there are certain minimum criteria which those two candidates don’t meet; obviously we don’t know what they are, but I don’t see any particular reason to think Jacob is lying when he says that.

    Now, they have nobody suitable for the job. They interview Toby. He’s definitely the least unsuitable candidate so far. On that fact alone he should probably get the job. At this point they really have no other options, nobody else suitable has applied, so hiring him is perfectly reasonable.

    The “controversy” hinges on whether it’s reasonable to reject people from a job without an interview. That happens all the time in the real world, I don’t see why it’s unthinkable here.

    • “Unsuitable” is a fuzzy criteria without definition. Maybe if they explained what criteria would make one “suitable”, it would bring this long sought after “transparency”?

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