Rising Sophomore CCSC Debate

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Bwog Correspondent Mark Krotov attended a debate between the three parties vying for freshmen’s vote: the Flex Party, the Fusion Party, and the Pants Party.

Though the CCSC Rising Sophomore debate was not especially memorable, it clearly signaled a shift in campus attitudes. Sure, there were the requisite mentions of better dining options and performance space, but the majority of comments and questions directly tackled the big issues; hate crimes, financial aid reform, and diversifying the Core were the subjects of most of the hour-long debate.

At the beginning of the debate, there were about 20 audience members, but the number swelled to about 30 halfway through the hour.

The Fusion Party started off the night with some standard comments, but George Krebs, the party’s outspoken presidential candidate, opted for a far more dramatic style, asking the ruling Flex Party rhetorical questions about their campaign promises and stopping mid-sentence to ask the timekeeper, “Is it three minutes or two minutes? You said it was three minutes before.”

The brilliantly named Pants Party followed, emphasizing stronger connections between the student body and the athletic department (something that the other two parties did not touch on) as a way to create greater community spirit. Their proposals were not especially breathtaking, but it was somewhat refreshing to hear Joseph Matuk, a candidate for class representative, mentioning “minor but helpful changes to the election process.”

The Flex Party was the third group to provide an introductory statement, and the five freshmen definitely made the strongest visual impression—they were all dressed in black. Noting their “great contacts with the administration,” they listed their accomplishments (healthier alternatives in John Jay, multiple study breaks) and promised to hold more events. The most amusing moment of the night occurred when Ian Solsky, a candidate for class representative, struggled to say anything constructive as the timekeeper furiously waved his hand. He decided on, “and…we did a lot of stuff.”

The organizers then asked whether policies or parties (the free food kind, not the Republican kind) would take precedence in the groups’ administrations. The Pants Party struggled for a minute to respond, but decided that “both are equally important, especially social events in the community, which can create a bond between the class of ’09.” The Flex Party answered along similar minds, but Fusion’s vice presidential candidate Mark Johnson said that his party leaned toward a 60/40 split in favor of policy. He noted that financial aid reform and stopping hate crimes would be a “long-lasting effort toward improving student and community life,” adding that he did not want “our efforts [to be] devoted to one night of fun.”

This was a turning point in the debate, because every subsequent mention of mundane topics like Dining Dollars seemed like a distraction from the night’s major topics. A representative from Amnesty International asked about divestment and Sudan, and while all three groups agreed that Columbia needed to divest, a sharp rift emerged between Flex/Pants and Fusion’s take on the big issues. While Flex positioned itself as “the mediator and as the source of information,” Fusion embraced a more activist role for the CCSC, arguing that “we need to support organizations that will take actions.”

The next question, which addressed hate crimes, only reinforced this division. The Pants Party stated “getting the word out on these issues is one of the most important things” and Flex followed, arguing that their job was to “collect ideas” and “deliver them to the class as a whole.” Johnson again took a contrarian stance, citing Alan Brinkley’s comment that not all crimes may be preventable and stating that this was an “outrageous” claim. He then directly endorsed SHOCC.

The issue of modifying the Core was brought up next. Flex noted the distinction between leading and representing, and one candidate added that although small changes could be made, “I don’t think that the Core needs to be changed in any big way.” But Fusion said that it was necessary to “recognize the flaws in the Core Curriculum. We are no longer a Western Civilization University. It is far beyond needed to integrate global perspectives into the Core Curriculum.” Pants Party was the last group to respond before the parties asked each other questions, and their last speaker stated that the “Core Curriculum is one of the main reasons why students come to Columbia.”

The parties’ questions to each other were confrontational but empty, though with one question asked to Flex and two to Fusion, it seemed clear that Pants had not made an especially strong impression. Krebs defended Fusion’s “Cub Cash” proposal (really no different than the neighborhood Flex ideas that have been circulating for awhile) and was asked for “one additional thing that is on your platform that is not on our platform.” Krebs responded to this when answering the only audience question of the night. The party was about “fusing elements of different platforms and tactics,” he noted. “If they’re not original, but if they make the students happy … it doesn’t matter.”

I’m not sure whether many of the audience members (the number had dwindled to less than 20 by the end) saw enough to make up their minds. Indeed, the whole thing was probably more of a rhetorical exercise than anything else. Still, one couldn’t help but notice that the flyers and protests and editorials that seem to be everywhere on campus seem to be making an impact. For every promise of more study breaks that fell flat, many of the ideological issues on campus really seemed to matter. At one point in the debate, Mark Johnson said, “we are not only students, we are citizens of the world.” I think he meant it.

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  1. eheu

    where is the spice, the wit that typically enriches such b&w reports? this piece feels as dry as the sahara. hopefully you'll be sending more experienced writers to the upperclassmen's events?

  2. InShort

    Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.

    Going to the candidate's debate.

    Laugh about it, shout about it

    When you've got to choose

    Every way you look at

    this you lose.

  3. myfingerhurts

    the sahara's not that dry. neither is this post.

  4. Freshie

    I'm sorry, but this debate was schlock—take it from a gal who watched. All three parties displayed a fundamental lack of understanding about basic issues (SHOCC, financial aid, funding, etc.), preferring instead to drop of names ("The Harvard administration gave me these neat brochures!" or "I was chatting with administrator X the other day..."). There's a right way and a wrong way to run a student council, but until candidates are willing to address pressing issues without resorting to appalling generalities, then the student body will remain completely disengaged. 2009 deserves better than this. (Still, I applaud your coverage Mark. Spot-on.)

  5. Good article.

    Good piece, Mark. Well-written, rather than dry.

  6. Yea that's me

    in response to Freshie, I think it is important for you to understand that when you are given a time limit of 3 then 1 1/2 minutes to answer deep questions as the ones given about financial aid, shocc, and sudan, there isn't near enough time to express full knowledge of the subject material. You say what is most pertinant and if you wanted to test the party's knowledge further it was up to YOU to ask a question at the end of the debate to whomever you wanted. I think the take home message of the entire debate was visualizing who was there and realizing which groups were serious about the council. Everything else comes after...

  7. sudan

    what does the sudan have to do with student council?

  8. yeah!

    vote for flex! they did such a great job this year.

  9. yeah!

    and they have excellent ideas for the future!

  10. NOOOO!!!

    They don't! and they lost!

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