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.”