New EC President clears up rumors following investigation

Kassie Scott, Staff Writer


Following his reinstatement as Executive Committee President, Russell Schmidt, ‘16, acknowledged rumors spread, rules broken and the review of run-off election results conducted by the EC.

“It’s for the better of everyone… if this is cleared up, so people understand the impartial nature of the process and [don’t] think it is some kind of big cover-up,” Schmidt said.

During Schmidt’s campaign process, The Spectator sent an email to the law school and circulated a video featuring Rob Lee, Schmidt’s high school mentor and coach, endorsing Schmidt for the position. An EC member also sent an email to third year law students endorsing Schmidt.

The Voting Regulations Board decided the email to the entire law school was allowed because, according to Schmidt, the The Spectator offered candidates equal access to publication.

However, the VRB decided the email sent to the 3L class broke the “mass contact” rule.

“I accept the fact that I … unknowingly broke the rule.  It seems like there is a very unclear distinction between who you know personally and who you don’t know personally,” Schmidt said, referencing the VRB rule regarding contact with familiar and unfamiliar students.

The email list used by The Spectator required manual, not automatic, input of individual names and contact information by The Spectator staff at one time or another.  The email to the entire 3L class sent by an EC member was found in violation of the VRB’s mass contact rule since it was sent to an entity of unfamiliar students and specifically addressed the 3L class in the email.

According to Schmidt, he and Lauren Howard felt the EC appropriately handled the review process.

“We both had to agree to select members of the EC.  It was a … very deliberate process where we both agreed ‘this is fair [and] we both have an even shot at an impartial hearing,’” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said it is an “exception to the rule” and a “tradition” to pass along information to fraternities and sororities. He says doing such is justified by the VRB in meetings and is done by all candidates.  Since the law students do not participate in Greek organizations, Schmidt felt the best way to reach out was through internet communication.  If only allowed to mass contact fraternities and sororities, Schmidt acknowledges that other students, such as independents and law students, are left out.

“I agree with the intent of the rules [to encourage on-the-ground campaigning], … but I do not think all of the students are engaged at the same level as the other groups of students [with this method].”

For the 3L class email and The Spectator campaign video, Schmidt was under sanctions for the final run-off round of the election.  Schmidt could only email individual students, and those emails could not be forwarded.  Schmidt was also unable to post anything new to social media and had to monitor aggressive social media usage by his supporters.

“My biggest fear is that there is any perception that I was at an unfair advantage because that would be disrespectful to the position and the school to win something so honorable and prestigious through dubious means.  It is never something I would do,” Schmidt said.

While Schmidt was willing to address all of the rumors, he was unable to speak specifically about some rumors involved with the appeals of the election due to a confidentiality agreement.

According to Articles 3.1 and 3.2 of the VRB’s rules, “no candidate or candidate’s supporters shall compel or force support of a candidate through the use of any organization or agreement” (3.1), and “On the day of an election, candidates may not campaign to individuals who are currently in the process of casting their ballots” (3.2).  Whether or not candidates’ supporters used these methods can neither be verified nor denied.

Schmidt did not comment on rumors regarding an alleged promise he made to protect fraternities from a similar fate as Phi Kappa Psi.

As EC President, Schmidt intends to protect the student body as a whole.

“In any circumstance, public safety officers… students or other authority figures making students get themselves in trouble by using the honor system as a weapon is 100 percent something I will aggressively stand up against.  It is not specific to Phi Psi or fraternities or Greek life in general,” Schmidt said.

As for the exclusion of candidate Bob Shinehouse, ‘16, from the first run-off election, all candidates were under the assumption that only two candidates would be included in the run-off, according to Schmidt.

“I knew in the end that my chances for winning were already very slim, so I feel like by [the time I was excluded] I had already made my point,” Shinehouse said.

As an honor advocate, Shinehouse has experience with the Student-Faculty Hearing Board, Student Judicial Council and EC investigations and hearings.  Shinehouse felt his perspective was a valuable one.

“I felt like bringing someone in who had seen things from the other side of the bench would … be beneficial for the system as a whole,” Shinehouse said.

Providing multiple perspectives and “getting the most input possible” is also of interest to Schmidt.  Referring to the recent controversy, Schmidt stated that he would be willing to speak candidly about the election process to allow for an open conversation on campus.  He must, however, respect both his fellow candidates and a confidentiality agreement.

“I would love to, if it is okay with the other candidates, just say everything that happened, so the students could have an open discussion.  Then you don’t hear rumors.  Even if people were pissed off or in huge support of me afterwards, you have open and honest debate on facts,” Schmidt said.

How does it feel to be elected President?

A: Humbling.  Getting 700 people to vote for you is unbelievable.  I have no idea how that happened.  I am honored to serve in this position.  It’s a big responsibility.  There’s work to be done.  If people are mad, that means that I need to be mad. It doesn’t really matter what my opinions are or how I feel about a certain thing.  If W&L students feel a certain way, I need to represent those opinions.  Being able to reach out beyond my friends or the 700 people to all students is really a daunting challenge but something I feel comes with the job.

What do you plan to change during your time as EC president?

A: In addition to addressing drunk driving concerns, I think in general clearing up the misperception of the EC to the student body.  I want to try to educate people more on the honor system to clear up any misguided fears.  It’s not something to be afraid but something people should feel safe living in.  I hope to change the perception of the honor system being used as a weapon.