Apr

8

CCSC Rising Senior Debate

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Last Wednesday, Bwog correspondent Brendan Ballou attended the CCSC Rising Senior Debate. According to his report, chicken wings were plentiful, while strong opinions were not.

Covering the Senior Class Council debate last Wednesday, I realized how inadequate a journalist I really am. When I showed up in the Satow room a full five minutes before the debate was scheduled to begin (I was proud that I managed to find the time and place in advance), I found the reporter for Spec was already there, interviewing the candidates, the elections officials, and the few voters who showed up.

The reporter really had her stuff together. She had a real steno pad. She had prepared questions. She worked the room for quotes. I, on the other hand, fished around in my backpack for a few blank sheets of paper and helped myself to the free chicken wings.


But I realized that the Spec reporter was by far the best-prepared person in that entire room. The candidates that night were articulate, but didn’t offer anything surprising. The debate was not about the big issues of financial aid, diversity on campus, Manhattanville, or the ROTC (which, to be fair, the senior class council has little ability to affect). The debate focused on the mundane, though still important issues of career advising, lawn access, and the Baker tailgating policy.

Cecilia Baum, presidential candidate for the Opposition party, and her running mate David Zoppo began the debate by calling for greater class unity and a more fun senior year. The 116th party echoed these sentiments

After some preliminary statements, the moderator opened the debate to panelist questions. Neither side felt comfortable taking positions on larger campus issues. When a member of the College Democrats asked 116th about financial aid reform, incumbent president David Chait explained that their job was to “reach out to the class. We’re representatives of the class, not of our own opinions.” Opposition roughly agreed. Baum explained that since financial aid reform was such a long-term project, there was not much the senior class council could change. “The best thing we can do is support the other classes.” Baum suggested that outgoing seniors get a survey of financial aid effectiveness on campus. 116th did not disagree.

A member of the policy debate team asked the two parties’ opinions of SHOCC. Both parties were of roughly the same opinion. Baum: “there’s nothing wrong with a group like SHOCC.” Chait: “I commend SHOCC on efforts thus far.” But neither party showed much enthusiasm for the senior council as an activist force. For both, the council would work best as a moderator between SHOCC and the administration.

The rest of the debate focused on operational concerns within the council and the Columbia administration. Opposition and 116th agreed that student organizations should be allowed to fundraise through the alumni network. 116th emphasized opening South Lawn more frequently. Opposition argued that no student group should be allowed to rent rooms in Lerner for an entire year. In response to a question from Bwog correspondent Marc Tracy, both parties agreed that the senior class deserved more free things.

I was a little disappointed. The issues Opposition and 116th brought up were all important, and their solutions were reasonable. But part of the fun of student elections is making unreasonable and impossible promises. Why not attack the administration for the financial aid problem? Why not take on the ROTC? Why not promise to end all racism on campus?

There was time for a final question, and I decided to be a good journalist. I got up to the microphone and asked, “Both parties seem to see themselves as mediators between SHOCC and the Columbia administration. But do you agree with SHOCC’s list of demands?”

Well, neither party wanted to agree or disagree. Opposition told me “we voice the interest of student clubs, but we want to express more moderate positions.” 116th chimed in that they “represent all the groups of the student council, not just one.”

Really? Isn’t it your job to take strong positions, to advocate, to make demands and cause trouble, I wanted to ask. 116th answered my question: “the point of being on student council isn’t taking a stance.”

Oh well. I guess student council is about more practical things. But had either party taken on SHOCC or financial aid, it would have given both myself and the Spec reporter a little more to write about.

5 Comments

  1. thank you

    for asking that question. what an insipid debate. what's the point of parties if neither has a stance on anything? columbia needs more ideologically driven elections.

  2. no thank you

    you're wrong thank you...student government is not the place for ideologies. it's for improving campus life, not a crusade on certain polarized issues.

  3. Apo

    Commenter #2 is correct: Student government should not be taking positions that divide its electorate. Some things are worthy goals that almost everyone can agree on -- like getting South Lawn open more often.



    The administration is never going to follow the council on anything that a significant portion of the student body opposes, anyway.

  4. brendan

    I hope it isn't irresponsible for me to chime in. basically, I understand how necessary it is for the council to address issues they can actually affect. but with any elected position there is the power that comes with representing the student body. the council can, if it chooses, use that power to address larger, more controversial issues.

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