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Student president candidates clash over campus issues

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Both Student Senate presidential candidates stress student advocacy as core issues. However, what they mean by “student advocacy” differs wildly, largely because of their differing perspectives.

Nick Southall, the presidential candidate for VOICE, has served for three years on Student Senate and began drawing up his campaign platform in fall semester with input from fellow senators.

“Between the three [executive members of VOICE] we have eight years of Senate experience,” said Southall. “With our expertise…we know what can get passed; we know the capabilities of the body; we know that next year’s body is going to support our ideals because we’ve already united under these ideals.”

Matt Farmer, the presidential candidate for FUSS—Fighting to Uphold Student Solidarity—has been deemed the “outsider,” having never served on Student Senate. In his view, Student Senate is broken and “drifting away from its original mission of student advocacy.”

“Student Senate is spiraling into irrelevancy. Students aren’t running for Student Senate anymore. There was only going to be one ticket up until a month ago,” said Farmer, who joined the presidential race a month ago.

Far from worried by Southall’s leg up on experience, Farmer believes he has an edge on Southall.

“Yes, [Nick] has more inner working bureaucratic knowledge of Senate,” said Farmer. “But I think he is lacking in executive experience,” said Farmer, who is the president of the Residents’ Action Council (tRAC), which represents and programs for the 8,000 student living on campus, and is the co-founder of the Residential Housing Advisory Board, which advocates for students.

Though both candidates said student advocacy was central to their platforms, their ideas of effective student advocacy diverge.

To bring more student voices to the table, Southall suggested appointing a Student Senate liasons to attend various student organizations’ meetings and report their concerns to the Student Senate at large. VOICE’s platform also proposes an international mentorship program, which would ease international students into life in the U.S., and a revamped busing system with fewer buses running along extended routes and later into the night.

“I think that if we had a more effective busing system, this would be a whole different university,” he said.

On the other hand, FUSS highlights issues of college affordability in five out of 13 points presented in its platform.

With the state share of instruction taking a nosedive and providing only 27 percent of Ohio University’s 2012 budget, 68 percent of the budget came from tuition and fees, according to a Compass article.

“We need students to care about the issues going on at the university,” said Farmer. “Student Senate … should act as a hub where those ideas and policy considerations are brought forward and debated.”

Among those policy considerations is the guaranteed tuition model, under which students would pay a single tuition rate over four years. Since the guaranteed tuition model may effectively figure four years worth of tuition increases into the fixed price, it has garnered the nickname “guaranteed tuition hike.”

Southall refused to take a stance on the policy before more specifics about OU’s version of the guaranteed tuition model emerged.

“I just believe that we should stay open-minded to all possibilities until we know the facts. As it looks right now, I would not support a guaranteed tuition model…Once the details come out I will take a stance on it,” he said.

Farmer, however, insisted on urgency because the Board of Trustees is slated to review a guaranteed tuition model in its April 19 meeting.

“That’s a couple weeks away, and we have to oppose it until we have all the facts on principle because this is going to be something that affects student all down the line,” he said.

Farmer also raised issues of student representation, something that Southall agreed is lacking. According to FUSS’s website, three out of 16 of the members of the Budget Planning Council are students. FUSS wants to increase that number to at least five to better represent the students’ substantial stake in the university as providers of 68 percent of the budget.

“We need to raise a fuss about what’s going on in our university because we’re not being treated as equals in university decision-making, and that’s a problem…In the case of guaranteed tuition, there needs to be some kind of valid initiative or university-wide vote so the administration” knows how students feel about it, he said.

Among FUSS’s other platform points are addressing rape culture on campus and pursuing socially responsible practices.

Whereas FUSS considered VOICE too “complacent” to advocate effectively for students, VOICE criticized FUSS for its lack of experience on Senate and supposed lack of outreach.

“We’re not tabling everyday because we’re going out to the students and talking to them,” said Farmer. “We’re engaging in conversations with students in the residence halls, in the libraries….We’re not trying to overwhelm students just sitting at a table and handing them free stuff.”

Southall said that VOICE has tabled outside of Baker three times since the campaign season began and hosted a Twitter conversation yesterday at 7 p.m.

Farmer voiced how instrumental Student Senate could be if it became less complacent.

“A couple years ago, the student government at Rutgers University organized one of the largest protests…against the tuition hike,” which persuaded administrators to cut the proposed tuition hike in half, he said.

“We do need people in [Student Senate] every week challenging the administration. Protests and sit-ins are also necessary to mobilize the larger student population,” he said.

 

 

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