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UCS, UFB candidates debate ahead of election

Candidates discuss transparency, structure, accountability in answers to moderators

Candidates vying for top positions on the Undergraduate Council of Students and the Undergraduate Finance Board addressed topics including student government reform, transparency and accountability during a virtual debate Saturday morning. 

UCS Vice President Summer Dai ’22 and Chair of Campus Life Zane Ruzicka ’23 are competing for the UCS presidency, while Parliamentarian Zanagee Artis ’22 and Chief of Staff Sam Caplan ’22 are contending for the vice presidency. 

UFB Chair Akilesh Raman ’22 is running uncontested for his current position. UFB At-Large Representative and UCS Chair of Student Activities Claire Brown ’22, At-Large Representative Kushagra Agarwal ’22 and Daniel Yadegar ’22 are running in the race for vice chair. 

UCS debate

Dai, who focused much of her vice presidency on increasing dialogue between students and the University administration through town halls and open meetings, hopes to further this work by connecting student groups to administrators who can help them in their advocacy, she said during the debate. 

This work aligns with Dai’s larger goal of using UCS’ resources to “empower students to pursue their own initiatives,” she said.

Ruzicka said that he hopes to create more space for student voices within the Council by working to create UCS class representative positions and reaching out to student groups more consistently. 

Ruzicka also repeatedly stressed his goal of increasing accessibility on campus by  reducing barriers to physical spaces and learning spaces. 

Dai emphasized the need for a centralized system where students can easily find updated information about clubs, member application processes and application deadlines. This, along with increasing the availability of E-Gap funding, could help build infrastructure needed to increase “accessibility to student resources on campus,” in addition to other opportunities, Dai said. 

Both candidates also discussed how to improve the Council’s retention of its general body members. 

Retention is a “big issue because I know that not everybody is comfortable working with and coming to (UCS) meetings,” Ruzicka said. He believes that general body meetings could be more productive and welcoming if there was less focus on debating policy and more on engaging with guest presenters such as student advocacy groups. 

Dai hopes to improve retention by giving general body members a larger role within the Council by inviting them to previously closed-door meetings with University administrators. 

At these meetings, general body members could “represent themselves as well as the students they’ve talked to,” allowing them to better advocate for student interests, Dai said. 

Amid recent conversation about the internal structure of UCS, candidate for the vice presidency — a position that largely oversees internal matters — Caplan stressed the importance of reforming the Council’s rules to foreground student needs. 

“Myself and all the other candidates you’ll hear from have a lot in common,” Caplan said. “We all want a water bottle filling station in the dorms. We all want a DIAP requirement as part of the open curriculum going forward … these issues come up every year during elections, but as soon as the elections happen, they fall by the wayside.” 

Caplan faulted systems such as the two-thirds voting majority system and required two-week review period for policies as barriers that prevent UCS from effectively taking action on initiatives on campus. 

Artis also proposed shifting away from current reliance on internal proposals, instead using the outcomes of referenda to set agendas. 

“What UCS hasn’t really considered in the past is that the student body knows what they want and there are demands already out there,” Artis said. 

While Caplan repeatedly stressed his knowledge of the by-laws and commitment to making UCS a more representative and effective body, Artis emphasized his experience with activism, which he hopes to use to support advocacy related to test-optional policies and colonialism in the curriculum. 

UFB debate

All candidates for positions within UFB stressed the need to make the process of requesting funds more accessible. 

For financial signatories, “there is just so much information you need to know,” Brown said, to the detriment of funding accessibility. Signatories must keep track of deadlines, budgets and quotas among other tasks. “To be honest, even I have to reference (policies) when I’m talking with groups,” said Brown, who hopes to make UFB more “user-friendly” by making information about its policies and decisions more accessible and transparent. 

Agarwal sees increasing UFB’s engagement with student groups as a path towards greater accessibility for clubs. 

“I want UFB to be an organization that actively supports student groups, not a logistical one,” said Agarwal, who noted that UFB currently spends 95 percent of its time reviewing budgets and only 5 percent of its time working on outreach, transparency and policy – three things he notes could improve the way in which clubs interact with the board. 

Yadegar, also concerned with issues of transparency, proposed holding training workshops for UFB at-large representatives as well as student groups to ensure that those who are interested can receive financial literacy training. 

All candidates also discussed transparency, as well as the large budget surplus UFB currently has. 

“There is a lot of opacity with respect to what goes on behind closed-door meetings,” Agarwal said. He believes that keeping a public record of funding decisions could allow student groups to see what types of activities are being funded and which ones are not. If students are able to see what decisions UFB is making and based on which criteria, Agarwal argued, UFB accountability would improve. 

Brown also noted that UFB currently has “a lot of internal standards” that it uses when making funding decisions, and proposed the creation of feedback rubrics as a way to make those standards less “opaque.” 

Yadegar believes that the Board should publish more information about its work to its website to ensure that “UFB is really meeting the interests of the student groups it is representing.” 

Brown and Agarwal also mentioned UFB’s budget surplus, which currently exceeds $1.6 million, as a resource they hope to find a way to use in the next year. 

Raman, who will continue in his current role as chair next year, emphasized the progress UFB has made in the past toward increasing transparency, such as requiring highly-funded student groups to disclose how funds they received were utilized. He is “hoping to make more gradual change in the next year,” he said. 

Voting for UCS and UFB positions will open Friday and continue to Wednesday, March 24, with results being announced the following day. Undergraduates will be able to vote through an online survey.



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