by Abe Asher
You don’t like policy board that much.
That was made clear enough by the last Presidential election, in which an outsider candidate running something of an insurgency, anti-establishment campaign won — beating out several sitting members of Student Council.
The election result of two weeks ago was the exclamation point on what has been a tough year. In short, policy board has gotten kicked around — not just in the election, not just by the winning candidate of that election, but throughout the school, where the reputation and reception of the board is lukewarm at best, and dismissive at worst.
Policy Board has noticed the criticism. “I’m struck by the tenor of it — not the amount of criticism, which I think is normal and healthy,” says faculty advisor and Dean of Students Deb Walsh. “People roll their eyes at perceived little power groups or just dismiss them out of hand. It’s the sharpness of some of the remarks and criticisms. It feels more serious than it has in past years.”
Things came to a crescendo during the campaign. Deb said, “I feel more protective of the students because I know that the charge and responsibility of policy board is a work in progress. This is the second year. We’re still figuring it out. This is unusual work, and there’s no precedent for it at OES — and I see them [board members] putting their shoulder into a lot of this work.”
“It’s natural for there to be some level of distrust or skepticism. But I do think that it ultimately effected Presidential elections,” she said.
The board addressed the criticism head on. “I was really proud — the upshot of the responses from many members of policy board was, ‘it doesn’t bother us that much. We have failed to communicate as well as we should have,'” Deb said.
That’s fair. At the beginning of the year, one of the board’s main agenda items was to write and publish agendas and updates on The Dig. That was an end that was not accomplished, mostly due to a lack of effort from the board after an initial proposal that included giving Policy Board total editing privileges over their articles on the site.
That lack of communication to the student body has been the board’s biggest problem this year. Most students — for whatever reason — has no idea what the board does. “A lot of the criticisms are simply from a lack of information,” said Deb.
She went on to say, “as far as communication to the students, keeping the public informed this year — and the public has to take initiative to be informed — I’d give us a C.”
Of course, it cuts both ways. “The student body needs to be less apathetic, and we need to meet them in the middle there,” said Deb.
StuCo has done plenty of work this year. Deb noted changing the voting system, scrambling together a parking proposal, molding the dress code and honor code, and working on citizenship at large, which ranged from meeting with Bon Appetit to meeting with Jordan and Amanda as issues that have all been front and center in 2014-15.
Much of this work, outside of the voting system change, has flown somewhat under the radar. In many ways, Community Board, with its well-defined, well-publicized, and annual duties, has it easier.
For Policy Board, it’s a two-part thing. One is a reasonable and understandable defense of the board’s record this year — a side of the debate that went almost completely un-argued during the elections — and acknowledgment that there is room for improvement.
“There’s a level of clarity with Community Board and how events happen. With Policy Board, there’s always work. There’s never a lull and always a lull. We have to be much more self-driven and it is a particularly hard fit when we meet for only an hour and a half each week,” said Deb.
Overall, a number of factors outside the sheer novelty of the of the board have made this a difficult year, and have pulled Deb, and mostly Jordan — who we didn’t talk to for this story because I think we’ve bothered him enough recently, don’t you? — away from meetings frequently.
But an apathetic board in need of major reform?
It’s an unfair rap. Policy board, and student council at large, is made of a group of people who care about their responsibilities and are trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
“It’s interesting because we’re all elected to these positions — at some point, we have support — something happens once we join Policy Board, where we become this foreign organization that people have disdain for. I felt like that shift happened immediately,” said Rowan B.
“I wasn’t much of a jump to go from not knowing anything about the organization to attacking it,” said Gabe S-R.
The leadership of that group this year — starting with the current President down — has been nothing short of admirable in their genuine care about the work they are doing. Now it’s about getting the message out.
For instance, not a single person used one of the open seats this year. “The apathy — and at this point, some antipathy — towards Policy Board is so established that it would there would need to be overcompensation. Just being communicative enough isn’t good enough. It will require an overwhelming effort to engage with the student body,” said Gabe.
There is a concern that the student government is missing the pulse of the students. “Should we be working on the benefits of “no-grades” high school? Should we have football at OES? With more years of work and practice under our belt, I do think that the work of policy board will become richer and part of student life,” Deb said.
Deb said that in a meeting two weeks ago, the board members, “really owned” the lack of communication, “and recommitted themselves to generating better PR.”
Cyrus J. has an interesting year ahead, considering that he won election by trashing the work of the sitting student government, and will now have to lead those same people whose work he trashed. There is certainly some lingering animosity.
Interestingly, the new voting system may have helped Cyrus to win an election that was extremely close — coming down to the eighth place votes — in that Cyrus didn’t have to go through a runoff where support that was split broadly between several more establishment candidates, most likely, would have congealed behind the second-place finisher.
That voting system — work that Policy Board is very proud of as a whole — was a response to the events of Spring 2014, just as the formation Policy Board was a response to the issues that the student government was facing in 2013.
“The trouble with Policy Board is that I don’t think anyone really knows what it can be. When it was originally formulated, it was created to address issues that that student government was facing,” said Gabe.
Policy Board’s collective head is in the right place. They need to figure out exactly what their board can accomplish, but for the most part, they are doing tough jobs with grace and quality. This is a good group. The key now, is making people believe it.