With the spring student government elections starting next Monday, candidates for the tri-executive and representative-at-large positions are debating a diverse range of topics in an effort to garner awareness and support for their propositions as student government leaders next year.
Members from the two tickets, Empower and Veritas, met in UMC Room 235 Tuesday at 7 p.m. for a comprehensive debate on the relationships and goals they said they hope to pursue and maintain should they win the coveted seats at UCSU.
One of the current tri-executives, Daniel Ramos, a 23-year-old fifth-year Spanish and sociology double major, opened the debate by reiterating the importance of student involvement in their government.
“UCSU is the most powerful student government in the country, managing $33.6 million dollars in student fees,” Ramos said. “We need leadership to take our organization forward. That’s the responsibility of us as student leaders.”
Formal rules were established for the debate, which included candidates answering questions on a rotational basis around three different categories of questions: general, executive and representative. Presenters were not allowed to defer to another candidate during their responses and each contender was allotted a specific amount of time that varied per question.
Questions ranged from how each ticket planned on maintaining CU’s standing as the greenest student government in the country to how they planned on addressing recent tuition increases.
One such question for the potential representatives asked them to describe what they believe to be the specific roles and responsibilities of a representative-at-large in the context of cost center relations and the construction of the student fee budget.
Brittni Hernandez, a 19-year-old sophomore ethnic studies major who is running for representative-at-large on the Veritas ticket, said that first and foremost, their job is to be the voice of the students.
“We’re here to be your representative and we represent all of you,” Hernandez said. “Our main job is to listen, to listen to what you have to say, to know that we do not have all of the answers, that the answers are within all of us as students and that building relationships with cost centers and talking about budgets. Those concerns are going to come from you, our constituents and our students.”
In response, Carly Robinson, a 24-year-old, third-year doctoral candidate in atmospheric chemistry who is running as representative-at-large for the Empower ticket, said that the representatives need to be accountable for all the students and student voices.
“I also think that as a member of Finance Board I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about the student government and how we are using our student fees,” Robinson said. “And I think it’s really important that we keep the level of these cost centers, but also find efficiencies within the cost centers.”
Debaters were given the chance to rebut the responses of their competition.
One instance asked executive candidates to describe their vision of what the relationship between the student government and CU administration should be.
The questions continued, specifically asking what types of relationship UCSU currently has with the administration and how that will help them recognize their ideals in the future.
The question was answered by Nicole McAllister, a 21-year-old junior integrated physiology major from Veritas, and then Allison Foley, a 21-year-old junior media studies and psychology double major from Empower.
The question about the relationship between UCSU and the administration was then rebutted by two different tri-executive candidates from each ticket.
Sanket Merchant, a 21-year-old junior finance, accounting and economics major from the Veritas ticket, began his rebuttal by saying that one thing his ticket wants to establish and continue the great relationship with the current tri-executives.
“We have to figure out where can we build relationships, where can we strengthen relationships and how can we get everybody on board, and that’s truly understanding what we want to accomplish and what roles we have established, where we can build relationships and then creating strong communication channels,” Merchant said.
Will Taylor, a 22-year-old senior political science, English and economics triple major from the Empower ticket then rebutted Merchant, saying that he currently thinks that UCSU working well with the administration.
“Currently I think we’re doing a pretty good job of relating with the administration,” Taylor said. “We have representatives-at-large that attend all the cost center meetings. They get in touch with various directors constantly and they bring that information back to UCSU at large, and I think that’s great. We’ll continue to do that.”
Taylor said that ultimately he thinks that UCSU is doing a good job, but acknowledged that there is always room for improvement.
One of the most critical topics of the night was that of rising tuition rates, lack of state funding and the resources the winners of the election will need to mobilize in order to maintain the university’s standard of education while keeping it accessible.
An executive question asked candidates to describe the origin and extent of spikes in tuition rates and then asked them to illustrate the actions they have taken in the past year against those tuition increases. Finally, it asked what they thought was the most viable path in dealing with tuition changes in the future.
Taylor began by saying that while higher rates are an issue and that the regents recently voted to raise tuition by 9 percent for in-state students and 5 percent for out-of-state students, it ultimately boils down to a lack of funding from the state.
“That’s where the Empower ticket really comes in because we have members, myself included, that have worked with politicians at both the state and federal level,” Taylor said. “So, our goal is to lobby a little bit and say, ‘This is absurd that we’re 50th currently in higher education funding.’ So with my past experience and other members of the Empower ticket working with these agencies, bureaus and politicians, we’re comfortable. We can lobby on your behalf and request higher education funding.”
Merchant responded to the question stressing the importance and significance of heavier student fees and recognizing the burden it creates for most students.
“One thing we thought about and we’ve discussed is really utilizing the Legislative Affairs co-directors and their abilities and their institutional knowledge, being able to use them to build coalitions all across the state of Colorado and getting students to lobby state legislators,” Merchant said. “What’s happening is that we have to understand these representatives that are cutting higher education are not seeing the value of them, are our representatives and we have to show the importance of it, what the burden is on students and what the investment and what the return on investment is of higher education as we are all evidence of that.”
Leanne Eckelberg, a 20-year-old sophomore business and psychology double major, was one of the audience members who actively participated in the debate by asking a question on how student legislators planned on making themselves available to students and group leaders.
Though she said she thought that both tickets seemed to agree on many topics including sustainability and efficiency within the budget, Eckelberg said she did note some differences.
“The biggest difference I see is that Empower is presenting the referendum legislation, which is vital for student groups to be able to fully fund and be sustainable to run their programs effectively,” Eckelberg said. “Veritas stated that they show support for student groups but they haven’t stated any specific legislation on how to support them further.”
Following audience questions each ticket was invited to make a two-minute closing statement.
From the Empower side, Taylor said that ultimately, the student body has already seen the best of what they have to offer.
“We have more experience than the opposition,” Taylor said. “I can guarantee you that the members of the Empower ticket represent the best that we have to offer for your student government and all of you.”
Hunter Barnett, 22-year-old senior business major with a certificate in operations and information management and a tri-executive candidate for Veritas, concluded their side of the debate by explaining the nature of their ticket name.
“Veritas is Latin for truth, but what it means is something more than that,” Barnett said. “It’s more than just a ticket name; it is an ideal that we hold ourselves accountable. We want to bring ourselves to a higher standard as students at CU and as citizens of Colorado.”
According to Jason Gonzales, a 23-year-old senior journalism and ethnic studies double major and UCSU director of media relations, there were around 90 tickets collected at the door, which constitutes a much larger expression of interest from the student body, as noted by most of the candidates and organizers of the event.
Audience member Devon Dean, a 19-year-old sophomore communication major, said that this was her first UCSU debate and that she hadn’t even realized that CU had a student government, but that it definitely looked like a big turnout.
“I just hope what they say, they’re going to actually implement, [and that] they’re not just going to talk and take no action,” Dean said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sheila V Kumar at Sheila.firstname.lastname@example.org.