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UPUA Election Starts With First Presidential Debate

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The 2014 UPUA Elections hit the ground running last night as the three presidential tickets had their first debate, although it’s somewhat generous to call Tuesday’s events a debate.

Anand Ganjam, Melissa McCleery and Meteen Doshi got a chance to sit at a table that may soon be theirs at the front of UPUA’s typical meeting place on the third floor of the HUB along with running mates Emily McDonald, Tim Rinehart and Kate Taylor respectively.

Moderators Brenden Dooley and Rachel Francheschino provided the questions, giving each ticket a chance to answer before asking for rebuttals, which more often than not resulted in silence from the six candidates. Even so, the debate provided an opportunity for the candidates to explain their platforms and answer questions from the public following the moderators’ question.

The debate opened with a brief introduction from the candidates followed by a series of questions directed at each ticket before the general questions began.

Ganjam began by talking about how important it is to mobilize students, as they “control the majority of State College’s population. Our job is to advocate for what the students want.”

When asked about the potential of having Borough Council spot having a two-year term as opposed to the typical four-year term to make it more feasible for a student to run, Ganjam talked about pushing the borough to put that to a vote via referendum. He also explained how he would work with the school to try and switch Penn State e-mail to Gmail, arguing that most students use Google and its services on a regular basis.

McCleery explained that she feels there are “voices on Penn State’s campus that are systematically silenced,” so she wants more organizations to come to UPUA as liaisons. Kate Taylor pushed McCleery on this stance, asking if she ever considered sending UPUA representatives to other groups instead of hoping they would come to UPUA.

Another major aspect of McCleery’s platform is UPUA accessibility. She feels that the current office hours and the open student forum at weekly assembly meetings can be intimidating, opining that she and her running-mate could set up a table in the HUB in order to be more approachable to students.

When the Doshi ticket’s turn came, they were asked about their idea to extend the White Loop to the Highlands area on Foster Avenue. Ganjam pushed Taylor on logistical issues and Rinehart added that residents often complain about noise. Taylor said that in theory, the extension would only operate during the day to transport students to campus for class and activities.

They also defended their idea to provide students a number of free cab rides as a way to get students home safely at night and, in theory, help prevent sexual assaults, but the other candidates weren’t sure that starting a new service instead of improving the current Safe Ride service was the most responsible solution.

Following the individual questions, a general debate session commenced where each ticket had the chance to answer the same question before a rebuttal period was allowed.

When asked what they would have done differently than Katelyn Mullen and Dooley as the UPUA executives, Doshi said he would have increased the government’s voice on the Student Technology Advisory Committee to push for advanced technology in terms of Angel, eLion and so on.

Ganjam did say that the current assembly has been the strongest in UPUA’s history, gaining legitimacy in the Penn State community. Despite that, he did say that there wasn’t much “encouragement for self-initiatives” from the assembly.

McCleery mentioned some underutilized UPUA aspects, arguing that the president and vice president could take part in more grassroots engagement within the student community.

When asked what sets their ticket apart from the others, Ganjam said that he has “the most experience on UPUA of any ticket,” adding that he and McDonald “have seen a number of tangible initiatives come through.”

McCleery brought up her vision and ideas for UPUA as what sets her apart, saying that “going directly to students and organization to see what UPUA can do to help them accomplish their goals across the campus” would be a priority.

Doshi brought up the connections that he an Taylor have to a myriad of student organizations, most of which they have served on the executive boards. He said that UPUA represents all students on campus and that his ticket is the most well-rounded in that sense.

One issue that all three candidates agreed on was the necessity to move club sports from the Intercollegiate Athletics umbrella and place it under Student Affairs so that they can apply for UPAC funds. Similarly, all three candidates agreed that UPUA’s collaboration with Movin’ On should continue, although Taylor felt that voting to not provide funds this year was a mistake. Ganjam quipped that “that’s how democracy works.”

One interesting answer came when Doshi was asked how he would respond to a situation where students disagreed with a stance but he knew it was the right thing to do for the student body. Instead of going with his personal opinion, Doshi said that UPUA should be a reflection of student opinion and he would go with the popular choice instead of what he believed. The other candidates took a more cautious approach.

The public comment section of the debate featured a few interesting topics. Rishi Mittal started things off by asking about advocating for lower tuition. McCleery said that Capital Day needed to be earlier in the year so that UPUA can approach legislators before the budget is finished rather than after. Doshi spoke about continuing to utilize the Grassroots Network. Ganjam focused on a proactive approach by proposing a legislative outreach program between UPUA representatives and legislators in Harrisburg.

From landlord accountability to a campus-wide smoking ban, most of the questions that followed Mittal’s saw relatively monotonous answers. The one interesting issue came when student Anjali Krishnan, also an At-Large Candidate, asked about a cure for student apathy towards UPUA.

Doshi said that he would follow each piece of passed legislation with an advertising campaign to ensure that students were aware of the changes UPUA is making. Ganjam’s platform includes roundtables for specific initiatives before they are written as legislation, allowing student leaders to collaborate and provide input. McCleery said that she will expand the UPUA’s Communications department and pass more “eye-catching initiatives,” such as an extension of HUB food hours and Late Night in commons other than Redifer.

While the debate lasted for nearly an hour and a half, there was little discourse amongst the candidates except for a few rare argumentative moments. The next debate, which takes place on March 31st in the HUB Auditorium, is hosted by Onward State and The Daily Collegian and historically has been the more heated of the two.

You can attend a Meet the Candidates event today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside the id+ office in the HUB. Stay tuned to Onward State for all coverage of the coming UPUA Elections, which will conclude on election day on April 2.

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