Candidates for Undergraduate Council of Students and Undergraduate Finance Board leadership positions grappled with ways to improve the relationship between the two organizations, means to increase financial aid and how to prioritize fundraising for student activities during a debate Thursday night in Metcalf Auditorium.
The presidential candidates kicked off the debate by discussing a recently proposed UCS referendum under which the council would have been allowed to determine its own budget without UFB’s approval.
Robert Bentlyewski ’13 said the amendment proposal demonstrated the “disconnect” between the council and the student body. To increase communication and transparency, he suggested changing the structure of the council to incorporate 48 members of equal status rather than an executive board.
Anthony White ’13, another candidate for the UCS presidency, said he did not support the way in which the amendment was presented and said the council should have sought more student input before suggesting the changes.
If elected to the UCS presidency, White said he would improve collaboration between the two bodies through more frequent meetings between UCS and UFB leaders. He also said he does not think the council should receive additional funding until all student groups on campus are adequately funded.
“For years, the relationship between UCS and UFB has been murky,” said David Rattner ’13, current vice president of the council. “Consequently, we’ve had a student government that hasn’t been as effective and productive.”
Rattner said the amendment was valuable because of the recommendations that emerged following the controversy over its proposal, which resulted in the creation of a joint committee to review the relationship between the council and UFB. The committee proposed changes to the UCS code Wednesday that would require UFB members to attend one council meeting and would ensure the council receives a certain amount of funding for student-related projects.
The candidates unanimously agreed that improving financial aid should be one of President-elect Christina Paxson’s top priorities.
Rattner also emphasized that Paxson should work to unite the campus around one vision, while White and Bentlyewski both suggested she focus on improving support for student groups.
“I know the Hellenic society couldn’t even afford to roast a lamb on Greek Easter,” Bentlyewski said. “As a Greek, that hurt me.” Bentlyewski added that Paxson should work to improve the University’s relationship with Providence.
Candidates were also given the opportunity to ask questions of their opponents. White asked his fellow candidates about the biggest setbacks they had overcome. Bentlyewski discussed his transition to the University after attending high school in a predominantly Colombian neighborhood. He said he was struggling in classes and miserable at Brown until he was motivated by a scholarship offer by the Brown Annual Fund.
“Someone saw some potential in me. And I was like, ‘I have potential,'” he said. “I was like, ‘You know what, let’s do this. Let’s do this, Brown University. You and me.'”
Rattner spoke of his recently failed endeavor to make increasing the student activities endowment an official priority of the University. But he said he has not given up and will continue to work to augment the endowment. He suggested selling the naming rights to the endowment and reaching out to younger alums.
Other candidates similarly promoted focusing on alumni relations, and Zak Fischer ’13, the unopposed candidate for UFB chair, suggested improving the organization of the finance board’s data to help reach the fundraising goals.
“I think we can raise the whole thing next year,” White said. He said the goal could be reached through aggressive fundraising strategies and put forth the example of having the Brown Band camp outside the provost’s office to demand the University’s attention.
The presidential candidates also discussed the council’s relationship with the student body and the candidates’ outside commitments and experience.
The two vice-presidential candidates, Michael Schneider ’13 and Brandon Tomasso ’13, discussed how they would handle communication with Paxson and their proudest moment at Brown.
“I’m not at ease right now with where UCS is going,” Tomasso said. “I feel as though I have the right stuff to bring to UCS so that we can make UCS representative of the student body once again.”
Tomasso said he would make the council and UFB two autonomous, equal bodies to alleviate tension between the two groups. He also suggested an online suggestion box and a student body liaison to improve communication with the student body.
Tomasso also advocated a strong approach to communicating with the administration, calling on students to do anything from chalking the sidewalks to rallying outside the administrative offices to get their voices heard.
Schneider said the council needs to reach out to student leaders more often to hear their concerns and to request feedback on UCS projects.
Schneider also suggested “pushing back against the administration and the Corporation” on certain issues, citing his authorship of a strongly-worded housing statement earlier this year as evidence of his ability to confront administrators. He said he hopes the council could pass a similar statement focused on improving financial aid.
“I want undergraduates to respect UCS for what it does,” Rattner said. “We must make this more collaborative and really must work with Brown students.”
The debate was co-sponsored by The Herald and the Elections Board. Voting begins next Tuesday at 12 p.m
. and continues through Thursday at 12 p.m. The winners will be announced at 11:59 p.m. Thursday on the steps of Faunce House.