Though their audience consisted only of their campaigns and Student Government (SG) officials, the six student body presidential candidates laid out their plans for leading the student body through potential budget cuts Wednesday in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Beef ‘O’ Brady’s.
Moderator Cole Giering, a junior majoring in chemistry, started the first presidential debate of the season by asking the candidates for their reactions to the proposed Senate budget, which could cut USF’s budget by nearly 60 percent.
Christopher Cano, a graduate student majoring in public administration, was dressed in a bright pink shirt and blue hat with sparkling lights and said the student body needed a president who would stand their ground in Board of Trustees meetings and protect student interest.
“We need someone who’s not going to be punked or intimidated or overwhelmed,” he said.
Brian Goff, a junior majoring in biochemistry, said he created a plan that would increase student advocacy.
“We need to not push special interests that we have but really listen to the students,” he said.
All candidates expressed opposition to raising tuition.
Alan Ethington, a junior majoring in economics who wore a top hat and bow tie, said he would try to minimize all student fees.
“I find that raising tuition and fees is inevitable,” he said. “But I am, however, not in support of any tuition hikes here at USF. It’s downright wrong. It’s unreasonable to expect some people to (pay).”
Christina Hughes, who said she works two jobs to pay for her tuition, said raising tuition after last year’s 15 percent hike was unfathomable.
“Our students, we are not in the position that we can take on increases in tuition and fees,” she said. “Just this year we’ve had students stand in front of the provost and president to say, ‘We’re hurting. Our pockets are not full of money.'”
Sarah Pollei, a junior majoring in biology who emphasized sustainability throughout the night, said the role of the student body president has little to do with increasing tuition, which is voted on by the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.
“I’ve heard a lot of candidates talk about putting a stop to tuition being raised, but as student body president we don’t have the power to put an end to it,” she said. “We can invest in sustainability, however, which is the best way to invest in our future.”
Hughes said the University needs to focus more on protecting higher education.
“Our education is at risk,” she said. “Do you value our education? I know I value mine, because that’s the only thing that will unite us, because that’s what we’re all here for. No matter your color, your creed, your gender, we’re all here for that.”
Omar Rodriguez, a junior majoring in history, said USF should lobby more in Tallahassee to protect the interests of the “herd.”
“We need to think about where we’re going to get our money from,” he said. “We need to go up to Tallahassee and find out exactly where our tax dollars are going.”
If elected, Cano said he would take a 90 percent salary cut and eliminate the student body president’s $8,000 travel budget for two trips to Tallahassee and one trip to Washington, D.C.
“I have connections up there, so all I need is gas money, and I can go to Tallahassee for $50,” he said.
All candidates were opposed to fully eliminating departments to save money, though in varying degrees.
Ethington proposed cutting the University Lecture Series (ULS), which he felt spent wastefully. However, Cano rebuked the idea, saying ULS spending should be increased to recruit better quality speakers such as “Desmond Tutu and Colin Powell.”
Rodriguez said funding cuts should not eliminate any department altogether.
“Every department serves a purpose, so I don’t think it’s feasible to cut any single department,” he said. “That’s just like us being like the Senate Budget Committee saying, ‘We’re going to cut one school more than the others.'”
Ethington said, based on his calculations, the University had enough money in wasted spending to buy iPads for all students and said he wanted to see an on-campus stadium built.
Yet while many candidates criticized the way the SG Activity and Services Recommendation Committee appropriates student fee money, Adam Saunders, a senator and senior majoring in political science, and Khalid Hassouneh, SG Senate president, said their critiques were untrue.
“They’re all liars,” Hassouneh said.
Voting will be held from Feb. 27 to March 1. The next debate will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the MSC Oval Theatre.