USG candidates for president, finance, academic affairs and student life debate

With the spring election for the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) coming up this week, candidates for president and vice presidents of Student Life, Finance and Academic Affairs gathered on March 31st for an election debate.

The debate started with candidates for Vice President of Academic Affairs. Three candidates, Caroline Gray, Prince Ghosh and Pranoti Pradhan, were present, while the fourth candidate, Dallas Eckman, joined the debate via Skype. In their one minute personal statements, the four candidates briefly introduced their future plans as a vice president and addressed some controversial issues like need aware vs. need blind, which they are asked to elaborate on in their first question.

Since the need aware versus need blind discussion is currently dealt with by the school administration, all four candidates appeared prudent and agreed that more student input is needed before the USG takes any further action. Pradhan and Gray pointed out that student feedback, collected through open forums and campus research, is important before any decision is made. Gray, Eckman and Ghosh also vowed to increase the minority voice in the decision making process. Ghosh suggests to reach out to University Diversity Collaboration (UDC) and CWRU alumni for more opinions.

The SAGES program, another controversial issue, heated up the debate and triggered the first rebuttal of the night. All four candidates felt that the current system of combining advising with first year SAGES courses is problematic and needed to be changed. Pradhan proposes a better matching process between students and professors. On the other hand, Ghosh, from his anecdotal conservation with students, observed that students are disengaged from SAGES for a lack of interest in the subjects they are learning. Therefore, he wants to initiate a new program where first year students can take courses related to their majors and be advised by professors from the same majors. However, Eckman, speaking after Ghosh, assessed that students should not be pigeonholed to any majors but given opportunity to broaden their academic experience. Ghosh then responded, “They (students) should get their feet wet,” and “decide early on if they like the majors.”

Since the Vice President of Academic Affairs is the only voting representative in the Faculty Senate, he or she also assumes the responsibility to act as a liaison between students and the administration. When asked if they think student concerns were sufficiently heard by the Faculty Senate, the candidates gave uniformly negative answers. To increase student involvement in the Faculty Senate and strengthen student presence in front of the administration, Eckman emphasized the importance of adding diversity and minority voices to the Faculty Senate. Pradhan, similarly, proposes to increase student representatives in the Faculty Senate.

The debate for Vice President of Student Life followed Academic Affairs. This year, three candidates, Barry Goldberg, Ivy Petsinger and Benjamin Tooke are running for this position, whose plans and leadership styles seem to diverge as reflected in their debate. Goldberg took on the first question related to the tobacco free policy. He recounted that after the policy was endorsed by the Faculty Senate, the administration originally planned to implement it without consulting the USG or the student body. He notes that the two USG resolutions that he led made the administration “back off.” In the future, he thinks that the USG should “watch out” to prevent similar issues from happening. Petsinger interpreted the issue differently as she thinks that the student body is not well educated on the policy. She suggests that more opinions from different perspective should to be heard before the administration proceed with the policy.

The candidates also have different focuses on issues they would like to address in their term. Having been working on improving transportation around campus in the past year, Tooke wishes to carry this work to his vice presidency in the student life committee. Goldberg, on the other hand, placed emphasis on providing more timely, effective health services to students.

A rebuttal was initiated near the end of the student life debate. Tooke wants to engage members in the student life committee by helping them to achieve their passion and individual goals as representatives. Goldberg attacked him as being “naive.” He asserted that every representative should be passionate about their work, no matter what initiative they are assigned to. As a vice president, Goldberg would like to look into the big picture and consolidate his representatives to tackle issues with large impact.

Since these two candidates are running uncontested, the second half of the debate, featuring presidential candidate Brian Ward and Vice President of Finance candidate Thomas Pierre, seemed more like an interview.

Ward mentioned that one of the initiatives he intends to complete next year is to establish a tracking system on the USG website. He expects the new tracking system to record progress of all representatives’ initiatives, past USG resolutions and decisions made by the USG General Assembly. Ward hopes that this system would both internally help the USG to hold its representatives accountable and externally increase transparency of USG’s work among students. A believer of “students first,” Ward hopes to strengthen USG’s presence among students, but he also acknowledged that currently students do show a lack of interest in USG’s work. Talking about the Student Executive Committee (SEC) reform, Ward believes that a more democratic process was necessary in deciding the fund allocation.

Pierre, the candidate for the Vice President of Finance, stressed his campaign for stricter USG funding guideline and more transparency in the funding process. He also discussed to increase racial and gender diversity in the finance committee, as right now most of the representatives in the committee are white males. Acknowledging his own privilege as a white male, he vowed to counter his personal bias by reaching out to students from different background. He also welcomes feedback from different organizations in order to improve the committee’s work.

Starting this Wednesday, April 6th, students can vote on the nine candidates in the debate, along with others running for Vice president of Public Relations, Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Judicial Officer. The voting will be closed on Thursday by midnight.