It’s certainly unusual for the Students’ Association President and Vice President race to be an uncontested one. Some students might even find it discouraging, under the belief that the SA’s democratic nature is undermined without a race for its two most important positions. Fortunately, as far as uncontested elections go, this just so happens to be a pretty good year for one.
Presidential candidate and junior Bradley Halpern and his running mate, sophomore Rohini Bhatia, would be extremely strong candidates in any competition. They both exemplify the experience, diligence and sensibility that students would hope to see from their SA President and Vice President. SA elections often provokes lofty rhetoric and sound-bite promises from candidates, but Halpern and Bhatia offer a very simple and accessible vision of their leadership.
According to the candidates’ platforms (see Page 8), they have three main goals for their term: “Empowering students,” “enabling access to information” and “developing the campus.” These might sound like ambiguous initiatives, and Halpern even admits to deliberately keeping the platform vague, preferring to zero in on broad, long-term goals rather than repeatedly affirm a selection of specific promises. A closer look at their ideas shows that these candidates have a serious, but friendly, approach to student politics.
Halpern and Bhatia said that the operative word for their term will be “transparency.” They are fully aware of how difficult it is for many students to be interested in the goings-on of the SA, or even feel as if their opinions are invited into SA discussions. As Halpern said to the Campus Times editorial staff, “It’s a huge problem if students feel like they can’t speak up to the SA.” Halpern and Bhatia wish to make the SA, as a whole, more inviting and approachable to the average student. They do not want student government to seem like a complex, members-only process that stands apart from the rest of the UR community. They want students to be interested in and aware of all discussions and decisions that occur within the SA.
Their early initiatives for this transparency include monthly video updates about current affairs on the SA’s website, making concise summaries of SA meeting minutes available to students and increasing the access students have to SA information, from budget plans to legislation in the works. They also plan to shrink the SA’s communications committee “to its core” for improved efficiency, citing that one of the SA’s greatest problems over the past year was ineffective internal communication.
Halpern and Bhatia are also seeking to improve transparency outside of the actual SA proceedings themselves. For instance, they plan to push for administration to provide clearer outlines of student rights and how students can defend them, as well as build a more central resource for students to access information regarding these topics.
When it comes to more concrete policy issues that affect the UR community at large, Halpern and Bhatia also remain vague — but in this instance, that’s to their detriment. One of the “big” issues the candidates have mentioned so far is a desire to gradually move the University away from rely on Blackboard for posting grades. Although they are both very aware of Blackboard’s inconvenient shortcomings, they have yet to suggest a service that would be a superior alternative. They also mentioned the controversy over whether UR Security officers should receive more intensive training, an issue which peaked with the tragic death of Jeffrey Bordeaux, Jr. in January. When asked about their stance on the Security issue, they avoided giving a solid answer on their opinions — which is surprising, considering that this is such a hot-button issue that will certainly remain a vital discussion point throughout the next year.
But the welcoming, approachable attitudes of the candidates is arguably their greatest political strength, and the best reason why their deserve student support. Perhaps the lack of competition this year actually helped Halpern and Bhatia ease into such a down-to-earth style. They do not give off any sense of over-ambition or desperation to earn support. Instead, they seem like concerned, active students that genuinely care for their community and their peers.
They might not provide many attractive buzz words or standing-their-ground policies directly through their platform. But in a way, there’s something almost comforting about their easy-going politics. Halpern and Bhatia would prefer that students feel comfortable and familiar with their SA President and Vice President than be absolutely dazzled by what they promise while campaigning. It’s an amiable view on their positions that isn’t easy to find in most student politicians.
Both candidates have considerable experience with student government. They have each served two terms as an SA Senator. Bhatia was a Sophomore Committee representative and Steering Committee Senator. Halpern served as Chair of Projects & Services for two years, and also served as Chair of the Campus Activities Board and as the SA webmaster. One of his most notable contributions to our school thus far has come from his work in the UR Wireless expansion program, helping to bring much-needed wireless Internet to several buildings and dorms.
In an uncontested race, students cannot actually vote against Halpern and Bhatia. Instead, simply not participating in the election could be regarded as a vote “against” them.
Supporting these candidates when it comes time to vote is a great first step toward their ultimate goal — seeing students taking an active interest in student government, without any of the “spectacle” that accompanies a competitive race.
If students show their support for Halpern and Bhatia, the two seem willing to honor that interest throughout their term. As Halpern said, “You want people that you trust to be making the critical decision.” The Campus Times assures that Halpern and Bhatia are worth trusting.