By: Elisheva Kohn  | 

Candidate for Syms Treasurer Barred From Running in Student Council Election

The Wilf Student Court ruled in favor of the Canvassing Committee on May 4 by a majority of 3-2, terminating Michael Stark’s (SSSB ‘22) candidacy for Sy Syms Student Council Treasurer in the upcoming Wilf student council elections on May 7. Majority and dissenting opinions of the court have not yet been released due to the “time-sensitive nature of the case,” according to an email from Chief Justice Phillip Dolitsky (YC ‘20).

Stark sued the Canvassing Committee and the Office of Student Life (OSL) on April 30 after he was informed by Jacob Shiner (SSSB ‘21), a member of the Canvassing Committee, that his name would be removed from the ballot due to his current enrollment in the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. Stark was first informed that he was disqualified from running on April 29, two days after he had presented more than the requisite 179 signatures to run for the position, and 22 days after he submitted his “Intent To Run” form to the Canvassing Committee on April 7. 

Unlike the majority of YU students who attend a gap year program before coming to YU, Stark spent his freshman year in the 2018-19 academic year on the Wilf Campus, where he had served on the YSU Student Council. Currently in his sophomore year, Stark is attending Lev HaTorah, an institution affiliated with the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. Commenting on this untraditional arrangement, Stark explained that he had received two scholarships, one which required him to attend his freshman year of college on campus, and the other which required him to attend a yeshiva in Israel. Stark intends to return to campus as a junior for Fall 2020.

Commenting on his reasoning behind the decision to remove Stark’s name from the ballot, Shiner said, “He's currently in the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program, as opposed to registered as an on-campus student. Only on-campus students vote in on-campus elections, and only on-campus students can run.” According to Shiner, the decision to terminate Stark’s candidacy was made “after a discussion between members of the Canvassing Committee and the OSL.”

Although Article II, Section 6(5), of the Wilf Constitution requires the Syms Secretary/Treasurer to be “at least a junior in good standing and a full-time student,” it does not outline any conditions to run for the position. 

There is also no constitutional requirement for voters — or candidates — to be current students on campus. Acknowledging this, Shiner said, “It's still a Canvassing Committee rule that we made using our constitutional authority.” Article III Section 1(1) in the Wilf Constitution commissions the Canvassing Committee to be “responsible for all elections” and ensure “that all candidates meet all qualifications for their respective positions.” Shiner acknowledged that the Canvassing Committee's rule preventing off-campus students from running had never been communicated to candidates and is not formally published in written form.

In his complaint to the Wilf Student Court, Stark claimed that his candidacy was initially approved by the Canvassing Committee after he submitted his “Intent To Run” form. Referring to the COVID-19 health crisis, Stark argued that since  “there are no students on campus this semester,” there should be “no difference between me and the rest of the candidates in that aspect.” 

The health crisis also prompted candidates running for Wilf student government positions to gather signatures virtually, a feat many students found challenging. Stark told The Commentator that he gathered a total of 183 signatures. “These signatures are all from students who want to see me on the ballot for this election period,” Stark wrote in his complaint to the Wilf Student Court. “Furthermore,” he argued, “during last year's election for YSU President, Ariel Sacknovitz ran for President and was allowed to be on the ballot even though he was on a leave of absence and not on campus.” Sacknovitz confirmed to Stark that he was on a leave of absence at the time of the 2019 election. 

When asked why it took a week to notify Stark of the termination of his candidacy, Shiner explained, “We were unaware that Stark was in the S. Daniel Abraham Program because he led us to believe otherwise.” According to Shiner, Stark “wrote in his Intent To Run form that he's a current member of IBC [one of four Wilf morning programs], which mislead us from the beginning.” Shiner told The Commentator that the Canvassing Committee was only made aware of Stark’s status as a gap year student after Linda Stone, director of student events for the OSL, looked up Stark’s student identification number. Stone could not be reached for comment. 

In an email to Dolitsky, Senior Director of OSL Rabbi Josh Weisberg wrote, “The OSL does NOT decide if a candidate is eligible, we only provide information to the CC [Canvassing Committee] to help them make an informed decision based on the criteria set forth in the Wilf Campus Constitution.” In his email, Weisberg admitted that he had offered his “personal opinion” to the Canvassing Committee agreeing with their decision to bar Stark from the election. “If in stating that I agreed with that assessment it was perceived that the OSL’s official position was as such,” he wrote, “then I apologize for the miscommunication and will be more careful in the future.” Concluding his email, Weisberg stated that “OSL does not have an official position on this matter.”

“Voting is about this semester, but running is about next semester,” remarked YSU President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21), referring to Shiner’s claim that Stark is currently ineligible to vote and should, therefore, be ineligible to run. Greenberg is currently running unopposed for reelection. “In my opinion, it should be fine,” Greenberg added. “Especially if he got the signatures, so it shows students want him.” 

“While I am not happy with the Court’s decision to uphold the Canvassing Committee’s termination of my candidacy, I respect the judicial process and the ruling given by the Court,” Stark told The Commentator. “I am very appreciative of the members of the student body who took the time to fill out my signature form in order for me to attempt to make it to the ballot.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated when Stark was notified of the Canvassing Committee's decision. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.
Photo Caption: Michael Stark gathered more than the requisite 179 signatures to run for Syms Student Council Treasurer.
Photo Credit: Michael Stark