Notre Dame’s student body elections have been host to plenty of too-strange-for-fiction tales. Here’s just one of them. This week, From the Archives tells the story of Bob Kersten (’74) and UnCandidate the Cat, the satire ticket that won.
Bob Kersten and his cat advocate for oligarchy, restricted free speech
February 22, 1972 | T.C. Treanor | Researched by Meg PryorWe are all aware that political candidates will do anything to grab our attention. But what happens when these candidates really push the envelope with their unconventional ideas? Do they have a chance of winning? Just ask Bob Kersten (‘74), who was elected the Notre Dame student body president in 1972 based on the promise that he would turn the student government into an oligarchy. Kersten was joined by a feline running mate known as “UnCandidate the Cat.”"I don’t think Notre Dame is ready for a democracy yet,” he said in an article by Observer writer T.C. Treanor.
Kersten ‘kidnapped’ by campaign dissidents
Feb. 24, 1972 | Jim Rose | Researched by Evan McKennaOn the evening of Feb. 23, 1972, the contentious candidacy of Bob “The King” Kersten culminated in a kidnapping.The crime occurred as Kersten addressed a group of supporters in a third-floor Keenan Hall bathroom, a typical campaign event for the student body president hopeful. (He had previously announced his candidacy in fourth floor bathrooms of Walsh Hall.) As his speech concluded, three unidentified students snatched up the candidate “without a struggle” and dragged him out of the building.
Kersten elected with 65% of the vote
March 3, 1972 | T.C. Treanor | Researched by Mary SteurerMaverick politician Bob Kersten and his running mate UnCandidate the Cat were elected student body president and vice president, respectively, March 3, 1972 with a record 65% of the vote. Kersten and UnCandidate claimed the majority vote in 19 of 20 halls, as well as Moreau Seminary, St. Joseph’s Hall and among off-campus voters. Observer writer T.C. Treanor reported Kersten and UnCandidate pulled a 1500-vote lead over opponent Paul Dziedzic in the victory.In some dorms the margin was not so wide. In Cavanaugh Hall, for example, Kersten won by only four votes.“Cavanaugh Hall will be the next woman’s [sic] dorm on campus,” the president-elect announced before a crowd in front of LaFortune Student Center.Kersten, in the likeness of President George Washington, was reluctant to take office.“Ketsten had earlier urged His people not to vote for Him, revealing that God the Father had appeared to Him in a vision and told Him to ‘get Yourself the hell out,’” Treanor wrote.In response to inquiries about how long he planned to stay in office, Kersten said “all I can say is that the Feast of the Ascension is May 11.”
Professors react to Kersten’s election
March 6, 1972 | Art Quinn | Researched by Adriana PerezAfter Kersten emerged from the election victorious, The Observer asked Student Life Council professors to weigh in.Their reactions “range[d] from disappointment to delight to wait-and-see,” Observer writer Art Quinn said. Some declined to comment at all.(The SLC, made up of faculty, administration and students, informed policy decisions on matters relating to student life, similar to today’s Campus Life Council.)Some SLC faculty members, like professors William F. Eagan and John J. Borkowski, were wary of judging Kersten’s motivations and character. However, they said if his electoral support was any indication, Kersten’s platform must have resonated with the student body.Professor William D. McGlinn called the election “a slap at the idea of student government.” Some professors were delighted with Kersten’s surprise victory. Edward J. Cronin called Kersten’s election “one of the best things that has happened at Notre Dame in a long, long time.” In his opinion, the win had humorously uncovered student government as a farce. Professor Robert Goodfellow said Kersten was worthy of the position.“I know Kersten and he’s a very good student. I think it is very good; he is honest, he is flamboyant. If he can deliver half of what he hopes to, he will be very good,” he said. “I think it is time in student government where maybe someone as eccentric as Kersten is needed. I see no harm that he can do and a lot of good he can.”