Sparse attendance at election debates; leave students wanting more campaign details
Candidates for student body president (SBP), student body vice president (SBVP), student body vice president of finance (SBVPF), and student body vice president of organizations (SBVPO) responded to questions about their platforms in Monday’s and Tuesday’s student government election debates. The president and vice presidential debate, held on Monday in McConomy Auditorium, featured Lindsay MacGillivray, a junior biology and psychology major, and Peter Masters, a sophomore international relations and politics and environmental policy double major, against Thomas Healy, a junior mechanical engineering and engineering and public policy double major, and Caitlin Jones, a junior business administration major. The audience for the debate was sparse; fewer than 20 of McConomy’s seats were filled.
In addition to representing the student body’s wishes in their decision-making, the positions eligible for election play an instrumental role in dictating the functioning of crucial student government organizations including the Joint Funding Committee (JFC) and Committee on Student Organizations (CoSO).
The debate began with questions asked every year, including “What do you believe is the most important role of student government?” and “An issue each year is how to make student government more approachable to the general campus, and to generate a sense of transparency — would you say that this year’s student government has done a good job at generating that sense of transparency and being approachable?”
An important part of Healy and Jones’ platform is the spreading of school spirit.
“We already have a great athletics program in place, and it’s just a matter of students knowing when these events are taking place,” Jones said.
The second part of the presidential and vice presidential debate began with a question about Carnegie Mellon’s campus culture: “How do you see the student body president’s role in addressing stress culture and how would you address it if elected?”
Healy emphasized the role of the student body president as implementing ideas, rather than coming up with them.
“We’re not going to be the ones who come up with the ideas of how to cure every problem at Carnegie Mellon; we’re two students within this university. I think the university itself and the staff of the university are going to come up with those ideas…. Our main role is going to be backing [the administration] up on their initiatives.”
MacGillivray continued the theme of carrying out proposed ideas by addressing the perspective of students, saying, “I do feel like the student body needs to feel empowered to speak up for themselves and to say ‘this is something I want to take on; these are the ways in which my impact could really help campus.’ ”
After the debate, some onlookers thought that the candidates lacked specificity.
“They didn’t address specifics; when they answered my question they basically both said that they were going to hold a bunch of meetings,” said senior economics major Bryan Wade.
Amy Quispe, a senior computer science major who ran for student body president last year with Wade, agreed. “I was thoroughly unimpressed with the candidates. They did a very good job of reiterating how they were going to crowd source student ideas, and then find other students to implement these ideas for them, and then take credit.”
“I think that tends to happen in these debates and in these large elections: The platforms are generally very broad pictures,” said Anshul Dhankher, a junior chemical and biomedical engineering double major.
Dhankher also emphasized the importance of experience for presidential and vice presidential candidates. “I would say that Lindsay and Peter’s side — both sides have great experience — was a little more specific in terms of concrete ideas and experience in student government. Especially on Peter’s side, with JFC and CoSO, that [experience is] almost necessary to have, going forward.”
Tuesday’s debates for SBVPF and SBVPO, held in Rangos Hall, had even fewer attendees than Monday’s.
The first debate, for SBVPF, was between Joshua Swanson, a sophomore psychology and statistics double major, and Jaden Potea, a sophomore statistics major.
Several debate questions asked the candidates about how they would strengthen communication among student organization leaders, other branches of student government, and the JFC, which allocates money for organizations’ budgets.
Potea advocated for a more transparent approach, keeping the JFC and SBVPF in constant communication with other key figures like the Student Senate and Graduate Students Association’s (GSA) finance chairs.
“One thing I would like to do is work with either the finance chairs to just make sure that the JFC’s rationale, their reasoning is supplied to them in detail…. I think it’s important to make sure the reasoning the JFC used to budget a certain way, to make sure that that knowledge is available,” he said.
Swanson, too, advocated increased communication between various heads of student government.
“I also think continuing with the office hours between the SBVPF and the SBVPO is important, because we do overlap in a lot of areas,” he said. “It’s going to be very close; both of them have strong platforms and strong ideas. It’s going to be about who can muster the most support,” said Vivek Nair, a junior electrical and computer engineering major and member of Student Senate.
“It’s going to be interesting because last year it was an uncontested position. The fact remains that the platform for SBVPF doesn’t have that much flexibility. How they can differentiate themselves from that description is what’ll define this election,” Nair said.
The debate for SBVPO included junior psychology major Corinne Rockoff, sophomore business administration major Susanna Park, and sophomore mathematics and economics double major Radowan Khan.
The Bridge, a new tool for campus organizations, was an important part of the SBVPO debate. Candidates all emphasized its utility when answering the question, “How will you ensure student organization leaders use the Bridge to its full potential, and how will you use the Bridge to help student organizations?”
All of the candidates agreed that many organization leaders and students were not fully aware of the Bridge’s purpose.
“I think people still don’t know what Bridge actually is, and what Bridge actually does,” Park said. Park advocated meeting with organization leaders to show them how to use the Bridge and providing online guides on Carnegie Mellon’s website. Park, a Computing at Carnegie Mellon (C@CM) teaching assistant, also suggested incorporating the Bridge into C@CM’s curriculum.
“I think it’s incredibly essential that students are aware of the Bridge and understand how to use it; it’s especially important now that a lot of important administrative functions are being done through the Bridge,” Khan said.
Rockoff agreed that the Bridge was severely underutilized, mostly because organization leaders don’t know how to use it.
“A lot of the questions about the Bridge at present are on the ‘where is the button for’ level; people just don’t know how to operate the system,” she said.
To alleviate this issue, Rockoff recommends “very detailed, but still at the basic level, how-to guides—quick questions and answers, most commonly asked questions.”
“The Bridge is a huge thing that’s happening right now that works directly with the SBVPO; it seems like that’s sort of the next step they can take to improve the work the SBVPO does, because it’s a resource that is meant specifically for organizations on our campus,” said MacGillivray, who attended the debate.
Andrew Schwartz, a sophomore information systems major and Student Senate sergeant at arms, considered what each candidate had to offer the position of SBVPO.
“I think Corinne has a deeper knowledge of the overall student body, and I’m not sure how that perspective would affect CoSO but I’m interested in finding out. I think that Radowan has a very deep understanding of the way CoSO operates, so I think that also makes a very interesting dynamic.”
Students can vote for candidates as well as view their submitted platforms online at stugov.andrew.cmu.edu until Tuesday. All three debates are also available for online streaming by cmuTV.