Suzanne Scharer was on the defensive on the night before Undergraduate Student Government elections. Scharer, chief of staff for USG President Aftab Pureval, found herself defending both her experience in USG and her running mate Matt Kreiner’s lack of USG experience at the third and final presidential debate last night at the Ohio Union.
During the question period – when campaigns could pose one question to each rival candidacy – three of the four campaigns saved their last question for Scharer and Kreiner.
Scharer defended her three years with USG.
“The hardest part about being so passionate about an organization is knowing its downfalls,” Scharer said.
Scharer said her administration, if elected, plans to focus on tangible projects such as readership programs. Scharer said she and Kreiner have developed networks and working relationships with the administration during their years at Ohio State.
Presidential candidate Logan Margulies said USG has placed a premium on maintaining relationships with the administration in the past at the expense of students. Scharer said her platform emphasizes students, and that platform will be taken to the administration.
Liz Ghandakly’s running mate Dave Knapp took a cue from Scharer’s campaign slogan when questioning Scharer’s close relationship with USG: “Why, Suz, do you have a continuous commitment to commit to failure?”
“What we’re here for is the students, and we’ll never forget that,” Scharer said.
She said Kreiner had never been involved with USG.
“He’s never been to a USG meeting,” Scharer said. “What he has is passion and commitment.”
Presidential candidate Joshua Gates asked what Kreiner brought to Scharer’s campaign. In response, Kreiner highlighted his time working with Ohio Staters, Inc. and his involvement in other campus groups.
“USG is not an organization that should be fighting for time with other groups on campus,” he said. “We’re all undergraduates.”
Presidential candidate Tariq Seifullah, who has focused on financially stressed students and grass-roots involvement during the campaign – including a student march on the Statehouse – used his question to allow Scharer time to discuss her platform. Earlier in the night he said he complimented the efforts of USG and said he did not want to change the organization.
“A lot of people really don’t know about the events USG puts on,” he said. “I’m not here to change USG. I’m here to improve upon it.”
Seifullah does plan to organize a 10,000-student march on the Statehouse next April and has proposed town hall meetings with students and administration members.
Other campaigns, however, plan more drastic changes.
Ghandakly stressed restructuring USG, most notably in how funds are given to the cabinet to fund programming. She again outlined her campaign’s plan for a national lobbying organization for college students. Ghandakly said she and Knapp have 16 other schools and lawyers from OSU working to form the organization, which would lobby for higher education funding in an effort to keep tuition costs down.
“A national coalition would get politicians to take higher education seriously,” she said.
Margulies, whose parents are lobbyists, stressed student involvement over a national lobbying group. Margulies said his rule of thumb is that ten letters sent to a politician will force them to take action.
“Unfortunately, higher education is somewhat low on the totem pole,” he said.
Margulies said his presidency would make communication with students a high priority. Among his plans to help students financially is placing $50,000 of USG’s $200,000 yearly budget towards 50 student scholarships.
“We need to show that we’re legitimate,” Margulies said.
Seifullah proposed freezing tuition for one year. He said money for activities could be asked for by writing alumni donors and student fundraising efforts.
Gates’ running mate Jamie Wallace said students, too, must take responsibility for the choice they have made to attend college.
“Students have to be held accountable for their own education … we have to find some way to come through,” he said.
Gates focused on his campaign’s most dramatic change to USG – the advent of a House of Representatives comprised of members chosen from student organizations. Gates said that rather than making USG more cumbersome, the body would give USG programs strong support because of the number of organizations involved in the House. The lack of communication between the USG and students, Gates said, often sounds like “twenty some odd people shooting at the moon.”
Seifullah called the idea a good one.
Gates said he plans built-in safeguards for the system, including posting meeting minutes and absences online and quarterly peer evaluations.
“We think all of these issues could be toppled,” Gates said of the House. “It’s not that hard at all.”
“A lot of student organizations don’t get heard,” he said.
USG elections started at 12:01 a.m. today. Students can vote online at www.usg.osu.edu today and tomorrow.