In observing and participating in the Andrews University Student Association (AUSA) elections last week, my mind retraced memories of high school when popularity was the primary qualification for student leadership. Neither merit nor experience were questions in the mind of the student body when they voted me out of office my sophomore year. In my senior year, a peculiar contest arose when my friend—an unabashed nerd with whom my conversation largely consisted of politics, philosophy and tennis technique—ran against the popular incumbent for the presidency. He won.
The absence of opposition in any of the positions’ elections reminds me of those high school years when—for the most part—the popular kids ran and won without challengers. Here at a relatively small university, popularity is not a leadership question. We are mature enough, I believe, as a student body to recognize a candidate for his or her ability and vision first. It begs the question then, why were there so few willing to run for student leadership? The following are some potential factors for the lack of student interest in AUSA leadership.
First, there is an issue of school pride. The tension between athletics and academics, pragmatics and theory, Christian and secular is present in any Christian university, be it Baylor, Notre Dame, or our sister universities of Southern, Walla Walla and so on. The most visible and immediately attractive aspects of a university tend to be the athletic success and the social offerings. I heard one senior say that in the last few years, AUSA has lost some of its glamour due to the decline in quality and quantity of events (a statement I cannot verify since this is my first year) and a dip in success of our sports teams. The recent, and I believe temporary, decline in school pride will correct itself eventually, but for now has diminished interest in AUSA.
My second thought is that the ineffectiveness of AUSA in pushing change eliminates it as a repository for leadership and positive experience. Every Andrews student has seen the potential for social media alone to popularize an issue and move it to the top of the university’s agenda. Without discounting the virtue of slow, deliberate and prayerful legislation, it seems that government arms such as the Senate have either forgotten or have no power concerning broader social issues besides the ubiquity of vending machines and transportation.
My third thought is that while there are visionaries, they have misplaced their efforts. One of my religion professors related the thoughts of native African Seventh-day Adventists when they heard that Andrews University theology majors were coming to hold a series of evangelistic meetings; they were elated and very much excited to hear the word of God from the “cream of the crop” of Adventist minds. As a theology major myself, I know we are most assuredly not all the brightest, most faithful, or boldest of men and women. However, even though we are frail human beings, I still hold fast to the mission of my department and this university—to seek knowledge of God and His Creation, affirm our faith in Him, and to change the world.
It does not hold that for all of our faults, we can or should squander the great privilege of attending a Seventh-day Adventist university. A call to student leadership then is a grave burden, and a conviction to promote the original vision and purpose of Andrews University. We each have a responsibility to God and men to enhance the spiritual and academic experience available here.
My immediate worry is for the position of Religious Vice President. Andrews University, for all of its faults, is the flagship Seventh-day Adventist institution of higher education. How is it that no one, especially from my department, has been willing to put his or her reputation on the line for Christ and to be a spiritual guide to Andrews’ student body unless no one has been called, which I do not believe is the case? There is a vindication to be had when the student body believes you to be capable and fit for the task rather than the opinion of the president who now has the power to appoint.
If you have a vision or dream for this university, do not be afraid to share it. The Student Association is a valid avenue to change this campus and to serve in such a way as to brighten the life of a fellow student. It takes sacrifice, but it is a fulfilling one.