Daily Egyptian

Letter to the Editor: USG candidates fail to demonstrate qualifications to lead at Thursday’s debate

By Johnathan Flowers

I am disappointed to note the lack of attendance at this year’s Undergraduate Student Government Presidential Debate. Specifically, this year, more than any other, the stakes of the Undergraduate Student Government Presidential election are real.

The individual elected to the office of USG President, as head of the largest constituency body on campus, will have the authority to shape the future of this institution through their participation in Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s embattled reorganization.

The Candidate that ascends to the office of USG President will have to take seriously USG’s responsibility as a student administrative body to make policy suggestions for the reorganization in line with the best interest of not only the undergraduate student body, but the entire campus.

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The future President of USG, and his executive, will have to look beyond parking and RSO funding, and to performing duties that, until the election of President Emily Buice, lay unfulfilled due to the neglect of the previous presidents.

In short: this year, USG will have to do its job.

Unfortunately, all four of the gentlemen who sat on that stage last Thursday failed to demonstrate their capacity to lead USG through issues facing the undergraduate student body in the coming year, specifically with reference to the simultaneous crises of enrollment, retention, and recruitment, as well as the impending reorganization that has dominated campus discussion for the past semester.

For example, Candidate Eigelberger grounded his platform in the elevation of the STEM fields to a position of authority that he implied had been diminished in USG to the detriment of his “constituents” in the STEM fields.

This is a point that I find ironic as the senators from the College of Engineering have been extremely engaged in their participation in USG and, to my knowledge, have not failed to contribute meaningfully to USG conversations.

In fact, two senators from the College of Engineering were among the five senators who reached out to me for information concerning the reorganization so that they could better inform their constituents.

Additionally, Candidate Eigelberger, was consistently unable to articulate an understanding of the issues facing USG. To provide an example, in response to a question asked regarding how he would include all student organizations in decision making, Candidate Eigelberger responded that he would work to prevent these organizations from getting “stomped” by the reorganization.

Nowhere in the Chancellor’s proposed reorganization does he seek to consolidate or eliminate registered student organizations. To suggest that one of his responsibilities as president is to ensure that student organizations don’t get “stomped” by the reorganization is to evidence a clear lack of understanding of the way that the reorganization works or what the reorganization affects.

This fundamental lack I might generously attribute to the relative lack of information on the reorganization among undergraduate students, however, as a candidate for the presidency of USG, Candidate Eigelberger really should have done his homework.

Candidate Newlin, despite his experience in USG, was also unable to articulate suggestions that did not, at the very least, violate the USG Constitution or repeat past mistakes.

Both his suggestion to “vet” USG Senators and his suggestion for stricter requirements would entail rewriting the constitution to change those requirements before he takes office or over the summer without the consent of the senate; or a violation of the constitution after he takes office.

Per the constitution as written, the USG Executive cannot simply “select” senators for umbrellas or other seats: umbrellas put forward their own senators in line with the constitutional guidelines. Any attempt by the executive to select senators would subsequently violate the constitution and would be grounds for impeachment.

Moreover, this suggestion to tighten the requirements for USG Senators would drive Candidate Newlin into the same fight that dominated the first semester of Jared Stern’s presidency and almost led to his impeachment.

When President Stern’s attempted to change the GPA requirements for senators to increase the “quality” or the senate, many senators rightly argued that this attempt was not only elitist and ablest, but would deny access to USG to many populations who are guaranteed representation on the senate.

Moreover, Candidate Newlin demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of USG’s policy given right to participate in the reorganization, a right that also ensures Candidate Newlin’s position as USG representative on two university wide committees.

As I have said repeatedly in senate meetings where Candidates Newlin, Mitchell, and Henderson have been present, USG is granted voting rights on the Faculty Senate Undergraduate Education Policies Committee, which ensures undergraduates have a voice in policy decisions that move through that committee, including the RMEs related to the reorganization.

That Candidate Newlin would assume that the reorganization is “too far along,” or “too progressed,” indicates how much attention he has paid to the presentations that he thanked me for delivering to USG during Thursday’s debate, as well as the brief policy advice offered to him on his ill-informed resolution to reorganize USG seats in preparation for the consolidation of students in Thomson Point. As a result, Candidate Newlin has no excuse for his provision of inaccurate information.

Candidate Henderson, like Candidate Newlin, attempted to use GPSC and myself to attribute some measure of legitimacy to his platform.

While I am happy that he took seriously my suggestion to seek out GPSC for mentorship, the fact remains that, until Friday, Candidate Henderson has not once spoken to me at length about how he might develop this mentorship relationship.

To be clear, this is only a concern worth mentioning because Candidate Henderson made GPSC mentorship part of his platform, which would imply that he sought this mentorship before publicly announcing it.

To be clear, Candidate Henderson has neither sought mentorship nor advice from GPSC prior to Friday afternoon after I expressed disappointment in the above. That aside, Candidate Henderson, like Candidate Newlin, fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the reorganization.

To be fair, I did have the opportunity to speak with Candidate Henderson and correct his flawed understanding that units would lose their funding should they be merged with other units, however, this conversation was only incidental.

Ironically, one of the points that the Chancellor has remained consistent on in his reorganization is that units would keep their specific foundation accounts, endowments, or other such monies tied to the department. In fact, this was the only concern that I have raised with the Chancellor that prompted immediate action on his part, both at the faculty level and at the level of the donors.

Moreover, and this is a problem with all the candidates, a cursory glance at the Chancellor’s FAQ in preparation for the debate would have prevented Candidate Henderson from exposing his ignorance during the debate.

To the extent that Candidate Henderson, in response to the second question of the evening, stated that he would distinguish himself as a professional by “understanding the problems that (undergraduates) face and may face,” his performance during the debate, specifically his portrayal of conflict with the administration as “cartoonish,” thereby trivializing USG’s vote of no confidence, the recent occupation of Anthony Hall, and GPSC’s ongoing resistance to the Chancellor’s decimation of graduate education, did not seem to indicate this.

This brings us to Candidate Mitchell, perhaps the least wrong of all the candidates on the stage. However, being the least wrong is still wrong.

While Candidate Mitchell did not make any of the missteps of his fellow candidates where the reorganization is concerned, this was only through avoiding citing specific facts about the reorganization and throwing GPSC under the proverbial bus through asserting the responsibility of USG to provide information to its constituents.

This is a point for which Candidate Mitchell deserves credit, however, this does not give him a pass: not only has Candidate Mitchell been present for almost all the presentations delivered by GPSC to USG (like Candidates Newlin and Henderson) where the reorganization is concerned, he is also the recipient of the information I provide to the Black Affairs Council, by their own request.

Now, what he did with that information, I do not know, but it was not in evidence at the Presidential Debate, and this is a problem for someone who presumes to lead USG through the trying times of the next academic year.

Moreover, while Candidate Mitchell was the only Candidate to articulate actual policy structures as a solution to our diversity issues through name-dropping the Diversity Council, It’s On Us Taskforce, and the Culture of Respect Initiative, all three of which grant undergraduate students the capacity to effect change in diversity initiatives on campus, I wondered if Candidate Mitchell actually understood the function of those bodies, or was merely relying on the (again) repeated admonitions by GPSC to fill those committees.

Like Candidates Newlin and Henderson before him, Candidate Mitchell seemed to be relying on the name of an administrative body, rather than expressing an understanding of the actual function of those bodies. Still further, despite name-dropping those committees, Candidate Mitchell did not actually articulate how he would resolve nearly a year’s worth of lack of participation by USG on those committees.

To be clear, while my interest in the USG election is in how the individual elected will use their position as the head of the largest constituency on campus to affect positive change, none of the above should be taken as an endorsement of any of the candidates.

Rather, the above should be read as providing a critique of the four candidates before the undergraduate student body heads to the polls. And the undergraduate student body should head to the polls: given the outcome of the previous election two elections, it is essential that the undergraduate student body not just cast a vote, but an informed vote.

If you were not present for the USG debate, seek out one of the candidates or their ticket and demand accountability for their qualifications, or lack thereof, to lead. Force these young men who would presume to be your voice, as each claimed, to demonstrate their worthiness to represent you.

As a final note, as the largest constituency body on campus, the actions taken by USG through its president affect all other constituency bodies, GPSC included.

To this end, I am not confident that any of the candidates on stage last Thursday will be able to wield their authority in a way that benefits not only their constituency, but the whole campus.

However, none of the four candidates will lead alone, if elected, they will be supported by a handpicked cabinet of individuals who, ideally, would complement each of the candidates’ short-comings.

As the USG debate is not structured to present the qualifications of the candidates’ tickets, and none of the candidates were able to define those qualifications in any meaningful way in their answers to the questions, we must hope, against all odds, the candidates’ tickets will make up for the glaring shortcomings revealed during Thursday’s debate.

If not, USG is in for a long year.

Johnathan Flowers. Ph.D Candidate, Department of Philosophy, and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council can be reached at [email protected] 

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