April 25, 2011

Student Trustee Candidates Argue At ‘Unprecedented’ Second Debate

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The six candidates for student-elected trustee clashed at a debate held Monday by the Cornell Forensics Society and the Cornell International Affairs Society. This debate followed an April 14 candidate forum, which was sponsored by The Sun.

Ankur Bajaj ’13, president-elect of CIAS and moderator of the debate, stressed the importance of a second debate for the candidates to address their competitors’ previous comments.

“Not that the debate from The Daily Sun was a bad one, but we wanted a different forum in which the candidates could build upon as well as point out weakness and inconsistencies in the other platforms,” Bajaj said.

CFS representative Emily Zhang ’11, who co-hosted the debate, said that the format used in the second debate allowed for more feedback from each candidate.

“We were really hoping that people would disagree and respond directly, which is the reason why we suggested this format,” Zhang said.

Bajaj also said that a second student trustee debate is unprecedented in Cornell’s history.

“I think it’s a monumental first step in greater student involvement in pressing our student representatives,” he said.

Zhang and Bajaj disagreed with the idea that the second debate might be a conflict of interest, given that one of the trustee candidates, Alex Bores ’13, is a CFS member and a former member of its executive board.

“If anything, it gives people more opportunities to hear from the candidates, which is the most important thing,” Zhang said. “Frankly, the more publicity, the better.”

The Sun hosted the previous debate at the request of Cornell’s Office of Assemblies, even though Lauren Ritter ’13, one of the candidates, is also an assistant sports editor. Michael Stratford ’11, a former managing editor at The Sun who no longer oversees writers or editors, moderated that debate.

During the debate, the six candidates — Bores, Kat Balram ’13, Samuel Daly ’13, Ritter, Nathaniel Rosen ’13 and Felema Yemane ’13 — answered questions on a variety of topics, including the proposed addition of a second undergraduate trustee seat to the board.

Balram said that she supports the addition of a second seat, an idea Bores has publicly supported, and that the idea should be “pushed forward.”

“Cornell has 14,000 undergraduate students,” she said. “Thus, we need more than one [trustee seat]. We should have a better correlation between the number of students that are physically on-campus and those that are represented.”

The candidates also discussed their ideas for improving on campus safety.

Ritter said many campus safety measures are underutilized, noting that since August 2010, only 121 students have used the University’s Blue Light services.

Rosen agreed that steps should be taken to improve the system’s  use, saying, “We need to expand and advertise Blue Lights.”

Candidates also discussed the mental health of students.

Bores said investing in Gannett Health Services is key to improving mental health on campus. He said that in 2008 there was a proposal to “massively expand Gannett” and connect it with Willard Straight Hall. The proposal became inactive of financial concerns.

“If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past three years, it’s how necessary that investment is,” he said.

Yemane said money is not the only solution.

“Just aimlessly putting money into specific programs on campus is not going to work,” she said.

Bajaj said the debate, which was attended by approximately 30 students, was important to inform the students of the candidates’ ideas.

“In the end, it’s very important to have a strong understanding of their platforms and initiatives before we vote,” he said.

For the first hour, the candidates each fielded six questions, written by former undergraduate and graduate trustees prior to the debate and posed by Bajaj and Zhang. For the final 30 minutes, each candidate responded to audience questions.

Original Author: Kerry Close