UCS serves a side of politics with dinner

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

If Elizabeth Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration, asked you to pick the University’s next big project, what would you choose?

Neither candidate for president of the Undergraduate Council of Students had an immediate answer to this question from Student Activities Chair and moderator Drew Madden ’10 at Tuesday evening’s debate in the Sharpe Refectory.

The first candidate, Brian Becker ’09, said there was no “pressing need” to fund any one program right now and that he would divide the money between needy causes, before changing his mind and saying he would put the money toward financial aid, something that “can only get better.”

Martin Bell ’10, Becker’s opponent, also acknowledged the diverse funding needs of the University. “Obviously there’s a plethora of things we could do,” Bell said.

The debate, which lasted about 30 minutes, featured the six candidates running for contested positions on UCS and the Undergraduate Finance Board.

Those candidates also began receiving endorsements last night, with Greek Council endorsing Becker for UCS president, Herald Account Manager Ellen DaSilva ’10 for UCS vice president and Jose Vasconez ’10 for UFB chair.

During the debate, candidates for UCS vice president and UFB chair delivered brief statements, while candidates for UCS president also took questions from Madden and audience members, who were mostly UCS members. Around them, hungry students continued eating and talking.

Bell, previously UCS’s liaison to the Corporation, emphasized the need for expanded financial aid as he described his platform and experience.

He said UCS’s task is to “articulate the needs and wants of the student body” to the administration, faculty and Corporation. He said he is concerned with increasing student involvement in admissions policy and making the University more environmentally aware.

UCS must “encourage if not implore” the administration to make the University carbon-neutral, he said, adding that Brown must “push that bar ever higher.”

He also proposed creating a $16 million endowment over several years to fund student activities.

“A vote for me will be a vote for the future,” Bell said.

Becker, who was chair of UCS’s Campus Life Committee last year, said he would improve Brown in simple, concrete ways. He cited the recent introduction of the salad bar at Josiah’s, the addition of a DVD library at the Friedman Center and renovations to freshman lounges as examples of his accomplishments.

“If you vote for me, it’s a vote for fun,” Becker said.

UCS should “recognize holes” in Brown and “work towards improving them,” he said when UCS Vice President Lauren Kolodny ’08 asked what he thought the UCS mission statement should be. Becker also said he has the “institutional memory” needed to run UCS effectively.

He also said he wanted to send monthly or bi-monthly e-mails to update the student body on UCS’s accomplishments. “As elected members, it’s our responsibility to represent ourselves fully” to the student body, he said.

Kaustubh Shah ’08 asked the candidates how they proposed to end UCS’s reputation for being stuck in bureaucracy.

“Essentially, it’s basic housekeeping,” said Bell, adding that UCS needs to come to meetings ready to spend the majority of its time on issues.

Becker said UCS needs to disregard its code of operations at times to get things done, though parliamentary procedure normally maintains order.

Candidates for other positions made few points in the short time they were allotted.

Vasconez, a candidate for UFB chair, said he enjoys being a UFB representative. “After every Tuesday and Thursday when we finish our meeting, I will have done something great for the student body,” he said.

Herald Sales Manager Lily Tran ’10, Vasconez’s opponent, said UFB must improve its transparency to improve students’ confidence. Tran has received the endorsements of the Brown Taiwan Society, the Brown Chinese Students Association, China Care Brown, the Brown Taekwondo Club and Brown Mock Trial, according to Elections Board Vice Chair Ellie Cutler ’10.

DaSilva, who is running for UCS vice president, said she is also running on a platform of transparency, adding that she will be able to organize next year’s expanded UCS.

Michael MacCombie ’11, also running for UCS vice president, said he wants to improve advising and seek more student input.

“We need to start going out of the office and find out what people want,” MacCombie said.

Candidates and organizers said the debate was frustrating.

“No one was really listening,” Cutler said. At the same time, she said, there is “a lot of merit to having the debate.”

“I didn’t think 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday at the Ratty was the right time or place” to reach students, Becker said. “Sure, we talked about issues, but I don’t think it really makes a difference.”

Bell agreed. “It was as good as you could expect in a venue like this,” he said. “We’re not exactly Obama and Clinton here.”

Candidates’ campaigns began Friday, and most have made a Facebook group or event to encouraged their friends to vote.

Some have other ideas. Becker is putting slides on IPTV, a medium that “hasn’t been used very often in the past,” said Cutler, and “a lot of people are just trying to get face time.”

Other than that, candidates are doing “the usual stuff,” she said.

Campaign materials must be approved by the Elections Board before distribution. Each candidate received 100 campaign points from UCS – a Facebook group, for example, costs 15 points, while face-to-face interaction is free.

Candidates agreed that finding people in person is the best strategy. DaSilva called it “the most effective way” to get votes.

“When I’m talking to people, I can show them that I really know my stuff,” Vasconez said.

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