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Candidates debate role of student government

Austen Hufford/Daily
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By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 20, 2012

A crowd of about 70 people attended the Central Student Government presidential debate last night in the Michigan League, where candidates had the opportunity to discuss their platforms before this week’s election.

The debate was originally scheduled for last Thursday, but was postponed due to inclement weather, and according to election director Peter Borock, 40 chairs were originally set up for the event, but more seats were requested to accommodate the growing number of spectators interested in hearing from candidates in one of the most contested CSG presidential elections in recent memory. The setup of the debate did not offer candidates the opportunity for rebuttal, and each candidate answered questions in turn.

Public Policy junior Kevin Mersol-Barg of the OurMichigan party, Business junior Shreya Singh of youMICH, LSA junior Aditya Sathi of MForward, and Business junior Manish Parikh, an independent, all participated in the debate. Dentistry student Andrew Horne, the presidential candidate from Students for Puppies, was unable to attend the event, but his wife gave a short speech on his behalf.

The candidates spoke about the importance of this year's election, and Mersol-Barg, Sathi and Singh all described said the contest demonstrated the wide range of interests of the student body. While CSG President DeAndree Watson, who ran on the MForward ticket, handily won a lopsided election last year, this year's candidates represent a wide slate of ideas on the direction and duty of student government.

As the current vice speaker of the assembly, Sathi, the MForward nominee whose party has won the last two presidential elections, spoke about his efforts to bring medical amnesty to the University. He also noted that he would continue to advocate for student issues at the state level through the Student Association of Michigan — a joint organization of student governments at universities across the state.

He added that he would work to improve the transparency of student government by developing a more comprehensive website that publishes details about CSG budgets, as well as funding, voting and attendance records.

Singh, the CSG treasurer, said her presidency would focus more on “tangible” goals around campus, such as streamlining the financial aid application process, creating a centralized calendar for all student groups and improving off-campus housing options. She also discussed her work on the Student Organization Funding Commission, for which she helped develop a new rolling funding system that allows student groups to get funding on a weekly basis instead of a few times per semester.

Mersol-Barg, an assembly representative, discussed CSG's potential to advocate for social change on campus and beyond. In addition to discussing his involvement with the student organization he founded, the Coalition for Tuition Equality, he spoke of his commitment to minority groups on campus.

Manish Parikh, the independent candidate, said as a student uninterested in pursuing a political career he is running purely to help students. He outlined several plans for his presidency, such as establishing a 24-hour café, requiring professors to publish their syllabi prior to registration, implementing a meet-your-athlete day in the Diag and improving CSG’s social media use.

Overall, the candidates identified rising tuition as the major problem facing students and recognized the need for CSG to increase communication with students and University officials.

Both Parikh and Mersol-Barg provided uniqe ways for students to interact with CSG and propose new ideas. Parikh gave out his e-mail address and phone number to the attendees, and encouraged students to contact him with ideas for his platform, while Mersol-Barg said he would set up desk on the Diag if necessary.

“If I have to — gosh darn it — I'll set up a desk in the middle of the Diag,” Mersol-Barg said. “I'll camp out there, hold office hours … I don't see people going up to the third floor of the Union trying to talk to the student body president.”

CSG also held the vice presidential debate immediately after the presidential debate.

LSA sophomore Louis Mirante of MForward, LSA junior Ethan Hahn of youMICH, LSA junior Amy Navvab of OurMichigan, and LSA sophomore Omar Hashwi, an independent, participated in the debate.

The discussion focused on many of the same issues raised in the presidential debate, with the addition of topics on divestment of University funds and Hahn’s tenure as a representative of the assembly.

The candidates answered a question about a resolution discussed by the assembly in April 2011 that would have supported University divestment

While most of the candidates said it’s within the role of student government to discuss this topic, they noted in their responses that it’s too politically charged and divisive to make a decision. Hashwi, however, expressed in his answer that CSG should play a larger role in the issue.

Mirante identified Hashwi as an author of the resolution, but Hashwi denied the role — Hashwi was not the author on the bill that was presented to the assembly in April, but did author an earlier draft of the resolution.

Regardless, Hashwi said the resolution was an insignificant issue and his support for it was not politically motivated.

“If there was an irresponsible company that was supported (by the University) and they just happened to do business with Lebanon, I would not support that company because they're irresponsible,” Hashwi said.

Mirante, who said he hails from San Francisco, said the University of California, Berkeley’s student government passed a similar resolution regarding divestment from companies who did business with Israel, and was met with disagreement.

“There were fights on campus and people felt afraid to go to school,” Mirante said. “That's not something I support.”

Business senior Matt Eral, the speaker of the assembly and moderator of the debate, said the assembly meeting in April that voted on the original resolution was highly contentious.

“The meeting went (until) 1:30 in the morning,” Eral said. “It just became very divisive … it's flown under the radar, but it's definitely still very present and still a very recurring issue for the assembly.”

Ultimately, Eral said he was pleased with how the debate turned out.

“I thought it went very well,” Eral said. “We had great questions from students which I really liked … I liked the turnout as well.”


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