The three candidates for next year’s Students’ Association President repeatedly emphasized the need for communication between students and the SA government during their debate Sunday night in the Common Ground Caf.
Fielding sometimes hostile questions, juniors Lonny Mallach and Adam Simmons and sophomore Matt Strabone addressed topics such as hate speech, students’ rights, school spirit, parking, dining, the campus pub and the role of the SA government.
Students in the caf had the opportunity to submit questions, which were read to the candidates by moderator Ashley Conner, a senior and member of the election committee. SA government faces made up a large part of the audience, with few other spectators staying for the entire debate.
In response to defamation on campus, Mallach said we should promote diversity by regarding cultural programming as an event for the entire campus, not just a certain minority group. Strabone ? who was sick and punctuated the debate with painful-sounding coughs and sniffles ? said student groups should interact more, like fraternities and sororities do during Greek Week.
Simmons voiced his opposition to a zero-tolerance policy, saying vigils and awareness can better combat a hate-speech problem than rules that would stifle freedom of expression.
“I’m very firmly against anything that limits an individual’s right to free speech,” he said.
All three candidates voiced a need for more student rights on campus. Strabone advocates an open dialogue between students and security. Mallach wants to ensure that accused groups receive a fair hearing.
One person submitted a question specifically for Mallach. “You say you were instrumental in creating the pub. Do you ever go there, because if you do, you must know that no one else does.”
Mallach’s response was that the pub is new and needs more than a month and a half to get on its feet. Strabone criticized the pub’s prices, saying the focal point of campus social life should be on the Fraternity Quad. Simmons said students need to let their government know what they want, be it the pub or something else.
“When people were lobbying for it, it was something everybody was all about, and now no one [seems to like it],” Simmons said.
The debate’s confrontational tone continued when a student asked, “What does SA government do, if anything?”
“We’ve accomplished a lot of things, but no one knows [the SA is] responsible,” Mallach said. “People take change for granted.”
He listed the UR Special bus, recycling, flyers and less Styrofoam use as SA government achievements. Strabone said the student services committee helped implement e-mail notification from the Package Store.
“There’s a lot of things [the SA] can do, but we have to know what you want us to do,” he said.
Simmons said that in order for government to be effective, the students need to speak their voice.
“We need to be accountable, yes, but students need to be involved in student government,” he said. “Look at the election ? probably 30 percent of the campus is going to end up voting. I want to see a system where students are their own government.”
One questioner wanted to know how the candidates feel about funding political advocacy groups. Because of SA policy, groups that endorse a national political candidate are not eligible for SA funding. While Simmons and Mallach seemed to favor the current policy, Strabone said he supports funding the groups as long as they all receive equal funds.
The candidates also addressed parking, an issue that inevitably arises during presidential election time. Strabone will work toward more shuttle bus service between campus and the laser lab and wants to investigate buying another parking area that is currently owned by the city. Mallach wishes to improve parking lot security and thinks it is unfair that every space costs the same regardless of its location.
Dining services, another familiar gripe, also received attention in the debate. Simmons wants to look more at food prices, Strabone advocated expanding the Corner Store ? a key point in Mallach’s platform ? and Mallach wants students to have a voice in the university’s contracting decisions.
When asked what makes them better than the other candidates, all three avoided the question by reiterating their own platforms and strengths.
“I’m not going to say I’m better than any other candidate,” Simmons said.
“The school can’t lose with this election,” Strabone agreed.
A student personally affected by the Sept. 11 tragedy asked why the SA government did not call on the administration to cancel classes on Sept. 12.
“There’s no way they could not have known this would affect us,” Strabone said. “I think the administration made a grave error in not canceling classes, but I don’t think the student government could have made a difference.”
Simmons, on the other hand, brought the central issue of communication back to the table. Students, he said, need to make the SA government and administration accountable by voicing their displeasure with the decision.
“It’s now March 24,” he said. “Is this the first time the issue has been aired? Do they know?”
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