Calm first presidential debate focuses on issues

Presidential candidates Moneer Kheireddine (left), Peter Corsa (center) and Gabby Cruz participated in the first debate of the election season Monday with all three focused on sharing their platforms and goals for the university. ORACLE PHOTO/MIKI SHINE

Monday’s Student Government (SG) presidential candidate debate featured unique takes on issues affecting students, but above all, the candidates expressed a desire for change.

To accomplish this change, each candidate seems to have a theme of importance that corresponds to their campaign.

Moneer Kheireddine emphasized growth, while Gabby Cruz stressed having conversations and Peter Corsa underlined the need for an identity.

A tense moment occurred toward the beginning of the debate after a question regarding the perception of SG.

“We’ve worked so hard and so far to improve our perceptions and to ensure we have an opportunity to listen to the students,” Kheireddine said. “We’ve established for the first time in years a petition system where any student who has an idea can be listened to.”

Corsa offered a rebuttal making the point that the petition system is not advertised well enough to students.

“I’d like to know where the petition boxes are because I haven’t seen them anywhere,” Corsa said. “They’ve got to be in their (students) face. We have to show them there’s a petition box, or how will they even know? Do you advertise them?”

Kheireddine briefly countered the argument by stating the petetition system in located online for the most part and marketing materials are still being developed.

However, the question most of the candidates seemed to be the most passionate about was how their initiatives would impact the overall academic experience for students.

“I definitely think there is space for improvement,” Kheireddine said. “One of the biggest forms of improvement that we want to see on our platform is the removal of the minus from the plus/minus grading system. If you get a B, you should get a B. If you get an A, you should get an A. You should not be penalized simply because you were a couple percentage points behind 93 percent or 83 percent.”

Cruz said she advocates for an all encompassing approach that features a decrease on the financial strain put on students.

“Some of you may be from just around the corner or from around the world, but at the end of the day when you go to bed, you should feel like you’re at home no matter what,” Cruz said. “You have be holistic in your approach to this. If there are financial strains at the beginning of the semester, we want to help eliminate those.

“Parking is always a conversation when it comes to elections. One of the goals Scott and I have is to talk to Parking and Transportation system and ask how can we make parking more affordable to students.”

On the other hand, Corsa said he believes it all comes back to school spirit and a lack of identity for the university.

“We’re missing that other element, that other side,” Corsa said. “I think everything is running pretty well as far as the administration, the professors, the way they’re teaching, the way they’re conveying. They’re doing a great job.”

One hot button issue among students that was brought up involved a question about textbook affordability.

“The average cost of a textbook for a USF student is about $150 and that is far too high especially with the growing need for financial stability among students,” Kheireddine said. “What we’re going to do is work with the USF library where we’ve actually already begun conversations to implement this e-textbook program.”

Cruz said that what’s most important is having a dialogue about the resources available to students.

“I am so fortunate that I’m a receiver of the BAP (Bookstore Advance Program), because I don't know if I would be able to afford my textbooks without it,” Cruz said. “I was surprised and glad to see that it was accepted at BookHolders. I think it's more about initiating these conversations of ensuring that it can be received at other places, because students get their textbooks from everywhere.”

Corsa simply said there is nothing that can be done on the SG level to improve textbook costs.

“I think we should be realistic about the textbook situation,” Corsa said. “Pearson doesn't care, they're going to charge us whatever. At the end of the day, what do you do? You (have) got to just bite the bullet. That’s a tough one.”

At the very end of the debate, each candidate gave their closing statements, each emphasizing the theme that they have honed this election season.

In closing, I’d like to just reiterate about these name recognition,” Corsa said. “The branding is so important for USF, because when it really comes down to it, it’s going to generate so much more money that the university needs that could really take us to this level of preeminence that is unsurpassed. That’s our goal, that’s what we want to strive for.”

Cruz described her past struggles and strong will in an emotional closing.

“I tell my story not to gather your empathy, but to show you tangible moments in my life that I didn’t let odds sway me,” Cruz said. “I didn’t let the prognosis of my success scare me. In fact, I've used it to empower myself.  My journey to USF would only be the beginning”

Kheireddine went last and delivered a rousing speech. His microphone seemed to have technical difficulties in the middle of his speech, so he resorted to shouting to get his point across to the audience effectively.

“There is something critical and very important that I have to say,” Kheireddine said. “And it comes down to the fact that as your student body president, my goal for the entirety of this past year and my goal for this next year is to make sure that every student here at the University of South Florida is represented and is able to enact any initiative or any dreams that they have. That’s what we’ve done this past year and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”