We had a difficult time determining which candidate to endorse in this year’s Duke Student Government presidential race. Patrick Oathout and Stefani Jones, both juniors, presented very cogent, eloquent platforms. But one candidate was, by an extremely narrow margin, stronger than the other.
Each candidate has their requisite strengths, but each possesses major weaknesses as well. Oathout, current executive vice president, impressed us with his breadth of knowledge and experience. He demonstrated deep institutional knowledge of administrative and policy structures. He was adept at grasping holistic, big-picture issues and developed more comprehensive policy proposals. But he displayed a worrisome tendency to revert to aggressive rhetoric when challenged and has been responsible for a number of high-flown but ultimately ineffective initiatives such as the DSG bill of rights.
Jones, current vice president for equity and outreach, also has her strong suits. She has a demonstrated track record of targeted advocacy, lobbying for a University policy against using conflict minerals and helping the effort to eliminate the one-year statute of limitations on reporting sexual misconduct. But she demonstrated a superficial level of institutional knowledge. For example, she cited former DSG president Elliott Wolf, Trinity ’08, for starting the FLUNCH program when, in reality, the program began during the term of Paul Slattery, Trinity ’08. Jones is too focused on tackling external advocacy issues—albeit crucial ones such as the sexual misconduct policy—instead of the internal workings of DSG, which are more technical but vital to the organization’s overall success. Furthermore, Jones’s platform suffered from ambiguity. Her proposed amendments to the current alcohol policy calling for a “modified distribution model,” were vague and, by her own admission, probably infeasible. Her policy stances are often simplistic, such as her proposals to increase dining options during West Union renovations, which ignore crucial factors such as the dining deficit.
Several assumptions shaped our endorsement decision. The first is that Duke faces an upcoming year filled with divisive issues with large impacts on student life. These issues include the West Union renovations, alcohol policy and hazing policy—all of which will require forceful advocacy on behalf of Duke students. Second, Duke has a history of experiencing social culture controversies, such as the recent Asian-themed party, which demand a subtle approach to balancing relations with the Duke student body and administrators.
We believe Jones would be slightly better suited to being the outward face of DSG during these potentially combustible issues with her understanding of social dynamics and balanced negotiation skills. We strongly suggest that she compensate for her gaps in institutional knowledge and address internal affairs by appointing cabinet members and collaborating with DSG members, including Oathout, to maintain critical day-to-day operations. The agenda of incoming executive vice president Nikolai Doytchinov, a sophomore, who aims to make internal mechanisms more efficient, would be a good complement to Jones’ emphasis on external advocacy.
Both Oathout and Jones have done well in their current roles, but both their presidential platforms suffer from deficiencies. However, given the likely contentious nature of the issues facing DSG next year and forced to make a choice, we endorse Jones while recognizing a strong case for Oathout as well.
Casey Williams recused himself due to personal ties.