Barring a late-season rally by Giant Joint or some other popular write-in candidate, the incumbent Mike Pernick ’10 will be the President of the WSA again next year. But how much do we really know about the man who represents students to the administration and the Board of Trustees? I sat down with Pernick last weekend and, after learning about his love for playing the bluegrass fiddle and his high school days as newspaperman, I asked him a few questions about his presidency:
Argus: Why is no one else running to be president of the WSA?
Mike Pernick: That’s a good question. I think that people recognize that this year has been a new year for the WSA, it’s been the first time in a while we’ve really been able to connect with students and effectively advocate for student issues down the line, all these things students care about. Folks are getting the message that the WSA is actually involved, actually can get results. I’d like to think that it’s the recognition of the great job we’ve done this year that nobody wants to step up to the plate and change it.
Argus: Do you think that maybe the job is hard enough that people don’t want it?
Pernick: There’s been a pattern over the last forty years or so where there’s been one year where it’s contested and one year it’s not, and last year it was contested and this year it’s not, so this is part of this alternating pattern.
But it is a hard job. On a light week I spend at least 30 hours doing WSA work, whether I’m in meetings or doing research or answering e-mails, or whatever the case may be. It is a very time intensive job, and I’m sure a lot of other folks couldn’t handle it even if they wanted to get involved. But there are a lot of other ways to get involved.
Argus: If being WSA president is so much work, why do you do it?
Pernick: There’s no better feeling…There’s almost no better feeling than knowing that I’ve made a difference in such a way that I can actually see the lives of my peers improving. I don’t care if it’s a concert that was able to get funded or a policy change that made someone’s life better, or some structural change or some statement of principles made that spoke to what Wesleyan’s about. It may be somewhat selfish, but there’s no better feeling than doing something that makes somebody’s life better. That’s something that a lot of Wesleyan students do. This is the way I choose to do that.
Argus: Is there anything you would have done differently over the last year if given a chance?
Pernick: I was thinking about this earlier, because I knew you would ask…(pause)
Government organizations, especially local government organizations have three different purposes: they serve as distributors of money, they serve as a policy body that looks at policies and procedures and the ways in which things are managed, and then they also do constituent services and help individual constituents with their issues. Now the SBC does a great job in the money area, the assembly and all the committees handle the policy area, and this year we’ve started to do constituent services, but I think we should take that to the whole next level, and I think that’s the one area where the WSA has serious room for improvement.
This year we’ve started a process advising for anyone who’s facing the SJB who needs help with something. If they want someone who’s trained in how you should conduct yourself in an SJB meeting, trained in the code of non-academic conduct and can actually help students in that sense, we provide those. If, as a student, you come to us, we’ll give you a process advisor. I think students should know that they can come to the WSA, not only when they want a major policy change, but when they want help with something they’re working on, we’ll help. That’s a structural thing, but I think it’s in constituent services that we have the most room for improvement.
Argus: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to face this year?
Pernick: The big issue this year, without a doubt, has been our response to the financial crisis, and that’s only going to get bigger. The cuts we’ve made this year are going to impact student life, but it’s been minimal. I’m comfortable with the cuts we’re making, because they don’t undermine our core academic mission, they’re not going to cut out our social life or undermine what it means to be part of the Wesleyan community. But if things get worse—and by all indications, we have no reason to believe things are going to get better—we’re going to have to cut more, we’re going to have to find more ways to enhance revenue and we’re going to need to do it within the next year. And making those decisions is going to be tough.
Argus: Were you satisfied with the results of the Fountain Avenue Commission?
Pernick: Well, we don’t know yet. There are a lot of issues that are still being worked through. And we’ve had some really good results.
Argus: Can you sum up what’s been enacted so far?
Pernick: There have been three or four different policies that will be finalized within the next few weeks. We’ve changed the event registration policies. I haven’t seen the final version of the policy, it might change a little bit in its final form, but that’s an area where we’ve made progress. There’s never been a policy controlling the use of cameras by Public Safety, and that hasn’t been finalized, but we’ve made progress there.
But the most important thing is looking at the relationship between students and Public Safety and Middletown police. There’s a perception among MPD officers that we’re a bunch of drunk, stoned, asshole students, and there’s a perception among students that MPD and PSafe are just out to get us. Both perceptions may be grounded in some grains of truth, but I think they’d be allayed or even eliminated if we could build a better relationship and if MPD could see students in an environment where they’re not drunk and belligerent and students could see PSafe and MPD in situations where they’re not in handcuffs.
We’ve had two meet-and-greets, the first one wasn’t very well attended and the second one was. Next time an officer sees a student they met a week before at a meet-and-greet out in the street late at night, they’re going to see them in a different light than they did before. Now, I think another Fountain could still happen. We haven’t made changes that would necessarily exclude that possibility. I think there’s a lot more that could be done, but we’re moving in the right direction.
Argus: Do you think that the administration respects the WSA and legitimately respects the WSA and takes your opinions into consideration?
Pernick: The answer to that is yes, and I think the results show that. Many of the policy of changes over the last few years, if not the majority, involved the WSA at every level and the results speak for themselves. I think there are some administrators who have more respect for the work we do than others. There are some administrators who are willing to work with us than others. Just over the last few weeks we’ve been able to increase WSA involvement in ITS activity.
Argus: How about Michael Roth? How have your interactions with the President been?
Pernick: Michael Roth is a very smart man. I think he has the best interests of the University at heart, and I think that this year he’s been phenomenal about incorporating the WSA and students in general into his decision making. It’s been a pleasure working with him, especially on the issues where we’ve agreed, and I’m really looking forward to another year working with him.
Argus: How about the Board of Trustees? Do they listen to what you have to say?
Pernick: I think the Board is very open to student voices. We need to be careful in how we approach the Board so that we don’t undermine our legitimacy, so we have to be strategic. But I really enjoy the Board meetings, and we’re one of the few schools where the student body president has a voice and a vote on the Board. I’m one of the extra invited members.
Argus: What do you think is the best thing about Wesleyan? What do you like most about being a student leader here?
Pernick: Well, the obvious answer is the people, and the students who go here and the community that we have. It’s sort of a textbook answer, but it’s true. On the WSA there’s a tremendous crew that cares about student activism and student involvement, but that’s not restricted to the WSA. I see that every day, from you guys, to everyone else that I’ve worked with. Everyone at Wesleyan makes it what it is. And I like being the spunky school. The great thing about Wesleyan is the spirit we have here. Sometimes people laugh, but I do believe Wesleyan is the best University in the world. On a personal level, coming to Wesleyan was the best decision I ever made.
Argus: Ok, well knowing that, if you could change one thing here, what would it be?
Argus: Yes, any change to Wesleyan
Pernick: If I could change anything, I’d quadruple our endowment.
Argus: Well, that’s all I need to know about Pernick the President, but I have a few questions about Pernick the Man, if you’re ok with that. These are a few basic questions. Where are you from?
Pernick: I’m from outside of New York City. I was born in Queens and I grew up in Nassau County.
Argus: What do you do here when you’re not being president? What’s your major?
Pernick: I’m a Government Major. I find academics to be a pleasant diversion from my responsibilities. And I have a great time here.
Argus: Do you have any thoughts about what you’re going to be when you graduate?
Pernick: Yeah, I’m going to be a bounty hunter. Or if that doesn’t work, I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut.
Honestly, I don’t know. I do enjoy politics, and I do enjoy making a difference through the system and making people’s lives better. I’m a big fan of FDR and LBJ—as a senator—and I think there’s a lot of good work that can be done. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, but I think I’m on the right track.