February 27, 2008

S.A. Candidates Debate Assembly’s Future

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The visibility and publicity of the Student Assembly remained its central concern as S.A. candidates gathered yesterday evening in a two-hour long forum.
24 undergraduates are running for 18 seats in this year’s S.A election. Online voting will begin next Tuesday, and the results will be announced that Friday.
The forum, which was held in Robert Purcell Community Center, was led by S.A.’s Director of Elections Mark Coombs ’08, who is also a Sun columnist. When he asked candidates what the S.A. should improve upon, most candidates agreed that the S.A. needed to increase its publicity and reach out to the students it represents.
“Our brand recognition is not as strong as it should be,” said Gregory Mezey ’09. “The S.A. as a brand … needs to be revitalized.”
Vincent Andrews ’11 agreed. “I think it’s kind of ridiculous that people spend hours upon hours every week passing resolutions, working for this school and nobody knows what happens.”
Such apathy was perhaps reflected by the number of students in attendance.
Although the forum was intended for candidates to “discuss their positions on issues of importance to constituents,” the audience seats were mostly empty. Moreover, although there are 24 candidates running for 18 seats, only 19 candidates showed up yesterday.
[img_assist|nid=28265|title=A humble introduction|desc=Asa  Craig ’11 introduces himself to other student assembly candidates and talks about his reasons for running at the S.A. meeting in RPU. Craig is running for Arts and Sciences Representative.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Andrews proposed that the S.A. should print and distribute its minutes.
Most candidates cited the S.A.’s recent passing of Resolution 12 as its greatest achievement. The resolution allows the entire student body to elect the president and executive vice president of the S.A. in the next academic year. The new bylaw will not affect next week’s election as it will first be implemented in the 2008-09 academic year.
The candidates also praised the S.A.’s “friendliness” and “efficiency” in dealing with student concerns expressed in the weekly meetings.
“That’s the best achievement — letting everyone have his voice heard,” said Bill Imperiale ’11.
However, the candidates also criticized the S.A. on several issues, including the prominence of its internal politics.
“We need to lessen politics. There’re lots of divisions between certain members,” said Asa Craig ’11, who is a current member of the S.A.
The S.A.’s recent increase in the Student Activity Fee was also a topic of heated debate, especially between two international liaison candidates, Samantha Dong ’11 and Luis de Lencquesaing ’10. According to Coombs, the international seat was usually uncontested. This year, however, three candidates were competing for the seat.
Questioning Dong’s initial opposition to the SAF increase, Lencquesaing asserted that the rise in SAF was the “most direct way” to increase intellectual vibrancy as it was “provided by the students for the students.” While Dong later claimed that the rise was “reasonable,” she also maintained that care must be taken to allow the SAF to benefit the whole student body.
The forum also brought out several other issues, including the lack of interaction between and within some colleges, and Cornell’s under-recognized reputation both nationally and globally.
Coombs, a key figure in pushing Resolution 12, hoped that the new bylaw would increase people’s interest in next week’s election. However, he does not foresee a surge of voters this year.
“[But] what I think will likely happen is that this year will prove a good contrast with next year. I want to emphasize [that] I’m not hoping for a low turnout this year … but I think once people will be able to vote for the president and vice president [next year], it will be better,” he said.
Coombs also suggested the revival of tickets in future elections to boost voter turnout.
“We used to have tickets. It would generate interest because … that kind of drama will bring out people. With the system we have now, turnout decreases and the number of candidates running decreases,” said Coombs.
He further added, “I don’t think eliminating the ticket was the right answer [because] ultimately it’s proven not to be either in the best interest of the S.A. or the student body.”
Samantha Appel ’10, one of the few audience members, agreed with most candidates that the S.A. should improve its publicity.
“They have a big challenge in front of them, but as many [candidates] said it’s been improving,” she said.