This year’s candidates for Student Association president each demonstrated clearly defined character and a sense of priority.
The choice ultimately came down to two exceptional candidates, and deciding whom to endorse required us not only to look back over their endorsement hearings, platforms and debate performances, but also to consider which traits we value most in a student leader. To that end, The Hatchet’s editorial board endorses junior John Bennett for Student Association president.
Bennett is a truly impressive candidate with a long history of student advocacy and a generally comprehensive plan for arriving at his goals. His platform strikes a healthy balance between tasks that can be quickly achieved and those that require a year’s worth of advocacy, and, more importantly, he has the strategy to accomplish both.
His plan to get SA senators more involved and motivated by including them in upper-level advocacy efforts is a smart response to the SA Senate’s typical apathy. It also speaks to his own high-impact term as SA finance chair this year, during which he reformed the financial allocations process and notably kept open dialogues with the many student organizations on campus by holding well-attended town halls.
We are confident Bennett would be able to negotiate the University bureaucracy to push his agenda and make the right connections to achieve his goals. Not only does Bennett have the knowledge of campus issues, but he knows how to apply it. His plan to revitalize Columbian Square, for example, which includes bringing in new furniture and making the area more inviting, is an efficient short-term response to the current lack of student space. This could provide next year’s student body with improved community space while he continues to lobby for his long-term agenda to secure a student hub. When pressed on the infeasibility of a point of his safety and security platform, he was willing to be flexible on its details as long as student safety did not suffer.
Bennett’s performance during the student media debate didn’t simply exemplify the success he’s had in his current role as SA finance chair. When posed questions about student life issues that weren’t mentioned on his platform, such as how to ensure that campus groups are accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, he responded with a smart and effective solution by suggesting involving major student organizations in Safe Zone training.
But we worry that Bennett is not willing enough to ask for the counsel of the students whose votes he seeks. There is no denying he has a huge ego, and while this might fuel a tenacious students-first lobbying agenda, he must make it clearer that he would continue to seek student input.
If elected, we have confidence that Bennett would bring about important change during his one-year term.
Ashwin Narla has made frequent communication with the student body the focal point of his campaign. Often, Student Association executives become so entrenched in their efforts that they lose sight of the students they are serving, but Narla’s strong, students-first platform and plans to hold frequent “State of the Campus” updates reassures us that he would keep his ear to the ground and maintain dialogue with his peers. Narla’s attitude about the sort of chief lobbyist he would be is one of the greatest strengths of his platform. He asserts that he wouldn’t just work with administrators as one student taking on the University, but also, through his outreach, he would mobilize the student body to be involved in initiatives and lobbying efforts.
Student space is a principal campus issue, and Narla has a clear focus to acquire an area that would serve as a student union. He said the Multicultural Student Services Center townhouse could serve as a model for an ideal community space, and we see this as a smart and attainable goal if he relentlessly lobbies for it.
That said, Narla’s platform comes off at times as too dependent on his passion, and it lacks a clearly outlined method. If elected, Narla must take the time to develop an even more comprehensive and detailed plan for how to achieve his platform promises. We were very impressed by his fervor and charisma during his endorsement hearing – he certainly has the magic – but during the debate, it became clear that his platform lacks serious substance beyond plans for frequent student outreach. There is a huge difference between having charisma and being able to carry out a platform. While he couldn’t be expected to speak to certain issues with as much savvy as an SA insider, we were disappointed he wasn’t able to address student issues unrelated to the SA with much substance.
Narla’s infectious personality and commitment to improving student life would make him an excellent lobbyist. We were disappointed to find that his platform wasn’t developed enough to match the strength of his passion and desire to lead the student body.
Jeremy Iloulian was a clearly knowledgeable candidate with a variety of innovative reforms for day-to-day student issues. His career services plans are a creative fix, and his understanding of the initiatives already in motion shows he would capitalize on that trajectory and advocate for even more student-focused reforms in the field. His method for gathering student concerns – by holding town halls that are co-hosted by the SA and specific student groups or schools – is a wise revision to the poorly attended town halls the SA usually holds.
Iloulian was able to showcase his impressive resume and list of accomplishments through his strong debate performance. This gives us confidence that he has the tools to be an effective lobbyist for students.
But Iloulian’s call to allow members of Greek life to self-adjudicate is a concerning one, as all students should be subject to the same set of regulations and enforcements. This policy goal is such an egregiously poor idea that we can’t help but worry he hasn’t thought through the rest of his platform thoroughly.
Will Thompson made a notable effort to demonstrate his commitment to building strong relationships, which we also believe is key in effective lobbying. His platform drew attention to a number of innovative issues that would have otherwise gone unaddressed during this campaign.
But Thompson’s ideas are not fully developed, and many of the changes he pledges to achieve have already been enacted, such as his desires to improve alumni connections with students and to limit construction noise early in the morning.
While it is important to distinguish oneself from the other candidates by having a variety of campaign goals and identifying unique platforms, latching onto issues that have already been addressed or are in progress does not make for the strongest lobbying strategy.
Ben Pincus’ platform reads more like one for executive vice president than president, and even when pushed on his goals, he remained exclusively committed to calling for internal reform to the SA Senate’s financial allocations process. His goal of increasing financial allocations transparency would require him to usurp power from the future SA finance chair and executive vice president – power we suspect neither person would be willing to cede.
Pincus demonstrated little knowledge of campus issues aside from SA reform, and when pressed on what else he would pursue, his responses were ambiguous at best. Pincus’ sole plan for SA reform would require effort over the summer and the first weeks of the school year, and we can’t help but think that if elected, he wouldn’t serve as an advocate for real student issues after that time.
You have a number of candidates to choose from, but there is only one who can provide real results as next year’s SA president. Vote John Bennett for SA president.