Well, we know who won’t be president

Bob Ray has been shut out of this year’s student body elections, and the activist is using all his political savvy to let the university know what he thinks about it.

As Chico State University’s Associated Students gear up for online voting April 17-18, the candidate-that-wasn’t is complaining that the school’s policy on who may run unfairly discriminates against graduate students in certain programs.

Ray was the first to turn in his papers, applying to run for A.S. executive vice president. But, Ray, who has attended Chico State for six years and is now a political-science graduate student, was found ineligible.

Although the A.S. Board of Directors approves the ballot, the university certifies whether candidates are eligible to run. Ray was not, according to the minimum academic qualifications presented by the Chico State president and affirmed by A.S. and faculty boards. Anyone running for office must have completed a full semester and have a certain grade point average, which would exclude first-semester freshmen, transfers and new graduate students because they haven’t yet received grades.

President Manual Esteban stated in an e-mail interview that it was a clear case of students just not meeting the standards. (Michael Polan was also disqualified.)

“I have never handpicked any A.S. officer, nor have I ever been involved directly or indirectly in the elections,” he said. “I have other things to worry about.”

Towing an entourage of about 20 supportive students, Ray appeared at the April 8 BOD meeting to ask student leaders to intervene on his behalf, perhaps even placing his name on the ballot against Esteban’s edict or delaying the election.

“The university president is illegally withholding my name from the ballot,” Ray claimed, referencing a systemwide standard that he believes should override Chico State’s, since he got his degree so recently. “Something’s going on where I’m being singled out and kept off the ballot.” If first-year graduate students are excluded, he said, those in one-year programs like his could never run for office and serve.

Some student leaders shared Ray’s concern that the rule sounded discriminatory, and people who participated in the revision of the standards said it was never their intent to shut out graduate students.

“There are a lot of things that go on in the university that don’t make sense, this being one of them,” said Amber Johnsen, the A.S. president who was leading the meeting.

Tiffany Yost, the A.S. vice president of business and finance, said, “There’s a student in need, and I think he has a valid point.”

But the board stopped short when A.S. attorney Jeff Carter warned members that the A.S. is legally required to follow all lawful university policies, and if they gambled and lost, it could “put your status as an auxiliary organization in good standing in jeopardy.” Instead, the BOD decided to write a letter to Esteban asking him to reconsider.

The debate threatened to overshadow the campaigns of the candidates who are actually on the ballot.

Facing off for the top position of A.S. president are Jimmy Reed, who is the current executive vice president, and newcomer Ben Kovar.

Kovar said he responded to the call for candidates by going straight to the top. “I basically signed up for president not really knowing what I was doing,” he admitted. But in recent weeks, he’s looked over budgets, attended meetings and come up with a platform. It includes community issues like urging the city to create a less-punitive diversion program for minors caught in possession of alcohol and continuing to help oversee Halloween events. He also thinks the $20,000 budgeted for the Go Chico! promotion, which Reed has supported as a way to cut back on the “party school” image and focus on academics and athletics, could be better spent. Another of Kovar’s ideas is to get bookstore and food services costs down by shifting, through attrition, some full-time career jobs to students.

The philosophy and psychology senior, who graduated high school at 16 and just turned 20, said he’s confident he can do the job. “I’m a pretty quick learn.” Also, he added, “I offer a new outlook. … I haven’t been influenced by any of the administration and current A.S. [officers].”

Reed, 21 and an agricultural-business senior, said that while he did fine this year with no prior experience with the A.S., “when it comes to president, experience is a must.”

He said that it’s important to know the structure of the A.S., which has several businesses and nearly 1,000 employees. And, he said, it’s a good thing to get along well with university administrators.

Reed has been to Sacramento in his continuing efforts to lobby against any student fees increases. He’d also like to make sure students know what budget cuts are being considered. For example, he said, students he’s talked to have been surprised to learn that University Police’s escort service is in danger of being slashed.

He also has plans to make food services more profitable, including perhaps contracting with local restaurants. "We don’t want to go corporate," he said.