Like most students, I rarely pay attention to UF politics. However, when someone promises me there’s more than what meets the eye, I try to understand what’s going on.
A few months back, Dave Bradshaw, then a graduate student, asked to meet with me. I agreed to meet outside the Reitz one Sunday evening. I knew Bradshaw could give me an invaluable, albeit biased, look into the inner workings of student politics at UF — he had, after all, been a campaign manager for a minority party — but little did I know what was coming.
Bradshaw was finishing his master’s in political science and agreed to send me his academic papers on UF campus politics. When I got my hands on them last month, I realized his research was irrefutable, with extensive interviews with people from all conflicting factions.
The findings are shocking. The 92 pages of detailed research in Bradshaw’s paper, which includes references to past Alligator articles, revealed how unelected representatives from powerful fraternities meet secretly to pick the upcoming year’s Student Government’s senior positions, how threatening intimidation tactics are used against those who speak up and how SG leaders have used an elite leadership honorary to perpetuate their power — illegally, in at least one case.
With my column space being limited and the average attention span even more so, let me highlight just one case.
There are usually two contesting parties in SG: the ruling coalition popularly known as “the System” and an opposing one known as the “indies.” The System consists primarily of Greek groups along with a few minority organizations. For decades, the System has dominated campus life in ways shadier than most know.
The Greeks are divided into three powerful groups: the “social bloc,” led by Sigma Phi Epsilon until the frat’s suspension compelled leadership to be reportedly transferred to Zeta Tau Alpha; the “political bloc,” led by Theta Chi; and the “third bloc,” led by Alpha Epsilon Pi. Ever since their last defeat in 2004, the blocs of the System present a united front come election time.
Every year, five or six representatives from each bloc meet secretly at what former Student Body President Ben Meyers calls “the Room,” and they “start horse-trading,” according to Bradshaw’s paper.
“Everything is on the table,” said another Theta Chi alumnus.
Citing political consultant Roger Austin, Bradshaw mentions how the presidency is rotated between the blocs “as part of an ongoing agreement.” The secret negotiations in the Room not only result in picking the vice presidency and treasury candidates, but they also include — according to Meyers and another former System leader, Nick Stinnett, in the research paper — making deals on positions in the upcoming executive cabinet and other SG leadership agencies.
Most students, including Greeks, are clueless of the nepotism behind the scenes.
Johnny Castillo, an opposition candidate in 2013, had no idea throughout his time in Sig Ep that his frat was the powerhouse at the time of the “social bloc” and said, “No one talks about [the bloc system] because that would be division. Think about it: If I was a part of Chi Phi [one of the less influential fraternities], and I found out that we were the s**ttiest of one of the blocs, I would want to know why.”
Other aspects of the highly concealed corruption in UF politics should be in next week’s column.
Until then, be nice to the folks campaigning on Turlington. They may be as equally clueless as the rest of us.
[Zulkar Khan is a UF microbiology senior. His columns appear on Tuesdays. A version of this column ran on page 7 on 2/11/2014 under the headline "Disturbing findings on UF student leadership"]