Sporting more hair than James Carville and lacking the bow tie of Tucker Carlson, GW students duked it out on the CNN “Crossfire” set in the Media and Public Affairs building Tuesday night.
Hosted by former Student Association President David Burt, the program featured debates between SA presidential runoff candidates Kris Hart and Steve Sobel and liberal and conservative students about the potential war in Iraq, as well as an interview with University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.
Trachtenberg addressed student questions about the tuition increase, trimester proposal and GW’s court dispute with D.C. regarding undergraduate housing requirements.
Though The GW Hatchet and Program Board-sponsored event was not taped for CNN, students had a chance to “fire back” at all panelists with questions, just as audience members do during live nightly tapings of “Crossfire.”
About 220 people attended the event, with conservatives and Hart supporters sitting on the right side of the auditorium and liberals and Sobel supporters, identifiable by yellow hats reading “Sobel for President,” sitting on the left.
Sobel emphasized his position as a relative SA outsider with a “working institutional knowledge” of the University.
“Say ‘no’ to the waste, say ‘no’ to the ego, say ‘no’ to the back-stabbing, say ‘no’ to the controversy,” Sobel said. “There’s nothing that’s going to be too political or too tough for me to take on.”
Sobel also mentioned his goal to improve student services on campus and that he has spoken with administrators about improving customer service.
Hart, with two years of experience in the SA, said he would be able to increase communication among senators.
“I want to bring the SA off the fourth floor (of the Marvin Center) and back to students,” Hart said.
He said he wants to make the SA “productive and proactive, not reactive” and stressed his role as a peacemaker during controversies in the Senate last year.
A student who was offended that the College Republicans sponsored an address by Phyllis Schlafly confronted Hart. Schlafly is a conservative activist and author who led the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972.
Hart, director of public affairs for the CRs, said he is neither “racist” nor “homophobic,” adding that all speakers have the right to come to campus.
The “Crossfire” evening was the only formal forum for a debate between Hart and Sobel during the election.
During Trachtenberg’s segment, in interview format with Burt, the president discussed the benefits of his proposed trimester system, which would keep the University open year-round starting fall 2005 at the earliest.
Trachtenberg said a trimester system would increase the efficiency of University resources, lower tuition and increase class variety. He also said students would have an edge on fall and spring internships because more students look for competitive internships during the summer.
A question submitted by former Residence Hall Association President Noel Frame pointed out that the University proposed in its spring 2000 campus plan that all freshmen and sophomores live on campus but is now opposing the city’s regulation requiring exactly that.
Trachtenberg did not directly answer the question, instead responding that older students can have a “civilizing effect” on younger ones.
“We actually worry about you … like family. For all these reasons, we are sometimes in your face,” Trachtenberg said.
He also mentioned that students shouldn’t drink “beer before spirits” and told a story about his college roommate’s girlfriend, who died in a drunk driving accident.
The first segment of the show focused on the potential war in Iraq, with CR chair Dan Moss and self-proclaimed “campus loudmouth” Austin Pearl arguing in favor of military action against David Kay from the College Democrats and Tim Kaldas from the Students Against the War in Iraq.
Kaldas argued that going to war with Iraq without the support of the United Nations would be “completely irrational because we’re accusing Iraq of going against U.N. resolutions.”
“For international law to stay intact, the only way out is war,” Pearl responded.
The audience consisted of GW students and University officials.
“The issues that were being discussed are paramount on the minds of the administration anyway,” said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for student and academic support services.
Heather Clapp, CNN’s coordinating producer, said The Hatchet and Program Board brought up the idea independently, and she suggested the two collaborate on the event.
“Tonight was a great example of how ‘Crossfire’ has become part of the GW student experience,” Clapp said.
Organizers said they were pleased with the program, and hope to make it a semesterly event.