Three of the four student body presidential tickets were on hand Thursday night for the first debate of this election season. The event, sponsored by the Residence Hall Association, drew about 50 students, most of whom had already determined who they would support as designated by their campaign buttons.
Presidential candidate Frank Harrison and his running mate Faran Abbasi, presidential candidate Jeremy Bills and his running mate Joy Gamble-George and presidential candidate Ben Sens and his running mate Ernest “E.J.” Joe all answered the same six questions. Each ticket was allowed to challenge the answers of another ticket, but none decided to.
Student body presidential candidate Kyle Myers was unable to attend the debate because he was at an out-of-town conference. His running mate, Aadil Modi, was also unable to attend due to family business.
The first three questions were picked by student body president Maxon Victor and vice president Sameer Ahmed. The second three questions were chosen by members of the Election Rules Commission from approximately 20 questions submitted by guests prior to the debate.
The questions were kept simple, and the answers varied only slightly from candidate to candidate.
Candidates were first asked what they thought of the relationship between the Oracle and Student Government.
The Sens/Joe ticket and the Bills/Gamble-George ticket both agreed that the Oracle was necessary to keep elected SG officials accountable. Harrison and Abbasi had a slightly different view. Harrison said while there is a decent relationship now, there is still room to improve.
“I think there just needs to be much more communication between Student Government, especially at the upper levels,” Harrison said.
The next question asked the candidates to lay out their most important lobbying points, whether at the state level or campus level.
All agreed proposals for tuition increases needed to be fought, and new buildings needed funding, especially for the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Sens said he wanted to see better funding from the state overall, and his running mate, Joe, said Bright Futures is another big issue for them.
Bills’ running mate, Gamble-George, said some of the issues her ticket would work on are dealing with parking fee increases and other student fee increases.
Harrison said his ticket’s No. 1 issue would be improving student life on campus and keeping students at USF.
Tickets were then asked to give their opinion on the possibility of making it mandatory for freshman to live on campus in the future.
Each ticket was strongly opposed to this idea, especially because of the financial strain it would put on incoming freshman.
Another issue concerned campus unity and how each ticket planned to promote it on campus.
Getting organizations to communicate better and coordinate together on events was a common response to the questions.
Gamble-George added a different perspective as the only graduate student on a ticket.
“When it comes to the issue of unity, I think the biggest issue is uniting graduate students with undergrads,” Gamble-George said.
Next, candidates were asked if they would stand up for student interests against the administration.
All tickets answered a definitive yes.
“They should be making (student life) more of a priority than making athletics a priority or making research one,” Bills said. “Student life should also be a priority; if that goes against the administration, so be it.”
Sens saw it as a pretty simple issue.
“We are supposed to stand up for the students,” Sens said. “It is our job to advocate on the part of the student body and stand our ground.”
The final question asked if SG should use its leftover money at the end of the fiscal year to help with on-campus safety. SG has slightly less than $40,000 left for the rest of this semester. The issue of safety on campus has been a hot topic since the recent slaying of Ronald Stem.
All candidates said safety was a very important issue on campus.
Harrison said he feels SG needs to build a relationship with the University Police, which he said is non-existent at the moment.
Sens said that it is one of the student body president’s most important duties to make students feel safe on campus. He also said that if need be, he would support a new SG agency to deal with safety issues on campus.
“If any student feels unsafe on campus, I believe it is my duty to fix that,” Sens said. “I understand that cars get broken into and things happen like that, but when you have someone’s life at stake – nothing can replace that. I’m very adamant about safety on campus.
The Bills/Gamble-George ticket said that more cameras in parking lots was just one of the parts of its platform dealing with how to improve on-campus safety.
There will be a second debate tonight in the basement of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center hosted by WBUL and organized by the Arts and Sciences College Council. Senator Kayla Munro said she is looking forward to possibly a more lively debate.
“We’re going to try to make it more interesting and encourage candidates to make challenges,” Munro said. “Have a little bit more of a debate, because this wasn’t a ‘debate.'”
Tonight’s debate will be the same format as last night’s, except all of the six questions will be chosen from questions submitted by students rather than half from Victor and Ahmed.It will be broadcast live over WBUL, 1620 a.m.
Munro added that she wants tonight’s debate to have interaction between the candidates.
“We want to have ‘the tickets’ talk back and forth,” Munro said.