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Stanford students vote to abolish their Council of Presidents

STANFORD -- Republicans and Democrats, take note.

Two years after they elected Bart Simpson as their student body president, Stanford students went to the polls again last week to choose next year's Council of Presidents (COP) of the Associated Students of Stanford University.

And the winner was . . . no one.

"I Prefer Not to Have a COP," a slate of four students who promised to abolish the student government office and then resign, beat its closest competitor in final round vote totals, 53 percent to 47 percent.

"A lot of people are comparing this campaign to H. Ross Perot's," said senior Ted Lai, a member of the "Prefer Not" slate. "Students always want to lead the country in any kind of change. I wasn't surprised that students voted this way."

Lai's roommate, senior Ed Mun, is also a member of the slate.

"At Stanford, I find a lot of students are sick of (the student government)," Mun said. "We tapped into that."

Before they resign, members of the "Prefer Not" slate - which also includes junior Blake Illstrup and sophomore Jay Jackson - plan to work for a constitutional amendment to dismantle the Council of Presidents permanently.

They also want to restructure the student government to involve more students in liaison work with the university administration, and to help students develop and run their own projects.

It is likely that the group's $16,000 salary and operating expenses will be diverted to a reserve fund by the Associated Students of Stanford University Senate, the 40-member student legislative body.

"We'd like to see more senators and students doing things on their own initiative, instead of relying on the same four people," Mun said.

Many students, however, expressed unease with the plan.

"By serving on university committees (and) meeting with administrators to make student opinion heard . . . the COP improves student lives in a variety of ways," Stanford Daily editors wrote April 20.

"The loss of that influence could not have come at a more critical time, as an entirely new administration takes over and the university seeks to reinvent itself in the wake of $43 million in budget cuts."

Why did the students vote the way they did? Changes in this year's voting rules may have helped the "Prefer Not" slate, as may have a forged editorial endorsing the slate that was substituted into the Daily at the printer's. ("Prefer Not" members denied any knowledge of the surreptitious switch.)

Others on campus, though, saw the outcome as a reflection of the students' larger frustration with politics in general.

"We are in the midst of, for lack of a better term, an anti- establishment rage that seems to have transcended all boundaries," said student Ari Richter, a Daily columnist.

"Distaste for government seems to have been replaced by something larger; an urge to do more than disapprove - a need to express that disapproval in a manner that damages the institutions at which the disapproval is directed."

Political science Prof. Doug Rivers said that having "I Prefer Not to Have a COP" on the ballot "gave people an out."

"If you ask people about presidential elections, you always hear that they aren't satisfied with the choices," he said. "They can avoid making a decision that way. The cost is free and it doesn't force them to say who would be satisfactory."

Added Stanford political science Prof. Richard Brody: "I'm sure it's some kind of trendy discontent with the election system."

But he also discounted its implications for the national election.

"In a way, 'none of the above' is mischief," he said. "If you can't have mischief when you're 18 or 20, when can you have mischief?"



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