The first round of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) election debates were held in the VC Cafeteria last Tuesday, adding crescendo to an already staunchly competitive bid for next year’s USG seats.
Some of the turmoil surrounding this race was explored in the last edition of The Ticker, however in light of the debate, some clarifications can now be made as to the progression of events that have led to the formation of the three parties, A Better Baruch, Connect with Baruch and Suit Up Baruch, and where they stand in light of the issues that face Baruch College students as a result.
Be sure to follow The Ticker on Twitter and Facebook as continuing coverage is provided on the USG elections. Also, don’t miss the second round of The Debates this Thursday at 12:45 in VC 3-150, where the three parties will square off one last time before the student elections scheduled for April 24 through April 26.
The parties are formed
In December of last year, some students had already begun planning out their team for USG the following year. Among these students were Chris Catalano and Santiago Mueckay, presidential and vice presidential candidates respectively.
According to Chris, “When we first came together, we weren’t A Better Baruch, we were just a bunch of people that wanted to come together. We were all people who had the same objective to run for USG.”
One member of that team, until Feb. 26, was Adam Camacho.
Camacho had no comment as to why he was kicked off the Better Baruch team, however he did say in an interview with The Ticker interview that he “had concerns about the team.”
“The biggest thing was that there was a [certain] decision made by few [and] that there was very little input from the team,” he said, though he chose not to divulge specifics as to what that decision was.
Later in the interview, he went on to add, “During the first meeting with the rest of [A Better Baruch, on] Thursday, Feb. 16, there was concern that the team wasn’t cohesive – it wasn’t like the team was making decisions together, people were taken aback. It wasn’t that there were divisions in the group, but more that people were uncomfortable with decisions being made without input” from everyone.
The night that Camacho was kicked off of A Better Baruch, he decided to start his own team, which was born on Feb. 27 under the moniker “Connect With Baruch,” or as they are most commonly referred to around campus these days due to their t-shirts and logo – a topic that caused some controversy at the April 2 debate – CWB.
As his executive vice president, Camacho recruited Ke Wei, and as treasurer, Christian Sanchez.
CWB began actively recruiting around the school immediately, focusing on the use of a democratic approach to the selection of positions within the party. This seemed to be working until the days preceding March 23, when a splinter group of CWB personnel created their own third party in the race, Suit Up Baruch.
According to Camacho, “Concerns of a few members on the team” were brought up when they approached him “and a few other executive board members.”
“We called an executive board meeting to go forward and solve these problems. From what I saw, it was resolved. We were discussing it, the issues were met. But there was still concern from those members, and I didn’t find out until the next day,” said Camacho.
“They already started planning this team; they recruited from within. Even though [the executive board] addressed the concerns, they were still planning to run on their own. They were able to launch very quickly because they took members and platform ideas from CWB. That was the only way they could launch [in the short timeframe],” he added.
The “they” that Camacho refers to is Slava Brodetskiy and Sara Dowd, who together head the team now known as Suit Up Baruch.
Sara Dowd, Suit Up’s vice presidential candidate said that when she joined CWB originally, it was “with a specific vision” in mind.
“The more we tried to work as a team,” she said of her time within CWB, “it wasn’t really going in that direction.” She added that she was either “going to drop out of USG elections altogether” as a result, or form her own party. When it came to just dropping out, she “didn’t want to do it.”
“I knew that I didn’t want to be president, for several reasons,” she said, introducing her companion, “Slava was the only person I felt comfortable working with.”
Slava said of the Suit Up Baruch vision that “we’re not trying to only appeal to business students, we want to appeal to casual students who aren’t usually involved in student life.”
The ideals of their party surround the shared sentiment among the leaders that “USG lead[s] a very dominant role on campus, and if we were to step back and support club growth, [it would] encourage students to get involved.”
Adding to the wreckage of March 23 for CWB was the stepping down of Adam Camacho from his presidential candidacy, leaving Ke Wei at the helm of the party, Christian Sanchez in the executive vice position, and the treasurer slot empty.
Camacho had no comment as to his reasons for stepping down other than that they were personal.
Ke Wei said in comments after the party reshuffling had taken place that, “It certainly did remove people who were questionable in my eyes as candidates for the next government; we believe that you shouldn’t hold anything in.”
He explained this comment by saying, “Essentially that’s really what happened: Slava and a few others wouldn’t voice their ideas, and they decided to leave. Because [Suit Up] did the split so close to campaign deadline…it’s left us both [CWB and Suit Up] in a lower stance than we were before so we have to build back up. But I have to say with our active voice, we’re building back up very quickly.”
Amidst all this turmoil, there were some rumors spreading of a possible “socialist” USG party bid, with someone suggesting that it be entitled “INGSOC” via Facebook comment threads on the topic, though the party never came together, at least not officially.
Of this entrance to the scene of yet another political party, Chris Catalano of A Better Baruch said, “I’m glad there are more parties running – I just hope that all the parties involved are taking this seriously…it’s a full time job and it’s not a joke if you win.”
“Because we’ve had a long time to be organized, that gives us a leg up. We’ve spent a lot of time picking specific candidates for certain positions, and I feel that other people are kind of grabbing people to fill the positions rather than finding someone who’s going to do the job right. But I welcome the competition,” Catalano concluded.
As USG elections grow near, tensions between parties continue to be high, with relations marred by accusations of platform stealing and lack of commitment or lack of connection with the students’ interests circling from and towards all parties both via Facebook and through The Ticker-hosted debate on the evening of Tuesday April 2.
What is the difference between these parties?
As the debate progressed, there was a mood of veiled animosity between members of the parties that added an electric current to the proceedings, and at some points, tensions looked like they were about to really boil over.
Elisabeth Greenberg, Editor in Chief of The Ticker and moderator for the night’s debate began the event by saying, “The Undergraduate Student Government is inarguably one of the school’s most important organizations.”
“Its leaders have many responsibilities and a great deal of power. Tonight, you as candidates have the opportunity to discuss what makes your own party ideal, answer questions on your platform points and of course challenge each other on various positions.”
Following introductory messages, each team had the opportunity to respond to a series of questions. Each team had three minutes to respond to the initial questions, with each team given one minute to respond to another party’s statements. After this, candidates were allowed a two-minute rebuttal to responses by other parties.
Early in the debate, each party was asked to grade this year’s USG on their effectiveness at achieving their goals. Surprisingly, Chris Catalano, who currently holds the position of Vice President of Academic Affairs in USG, gave the lowest grade, though Slava Brodetskiy’s criticisms were the most poignant.
“I’ll give them a B+. With a curve,” Brodetskiy said, getting one of many vocal reactions out of the crowd.
He then went over the platform for the current USG elected party, Stand Up! Baruch, picking it apart one point at a time. “Push for new minors and majors? USG instrumental in competitions? The Student Bill of Rights has not passed this year, regular conversations with students don't happen. The online forum for students hasn't gone live,” these were just some of his critiques.
There was yet another burst of chatter from the crowd as Brodetskiy addressed Catalano’s remark that, “Slava, you’re an elected official as well, and I haven’t seen you in months.”
“I’ve been at every building fund meeting, but Chris, you haven’t been attending the meetings with Dennis Slavin about Pathways,” shot Brodetskiy.
Catalano’s reply to this was that there was a scheduling error, and that “these things happen.”
One major point of contention between Suit Up Baruch and CWB that made its way into the debate was the issue of CWB accusations that Suit Up had stolen parts of its platform when the former CWB members split off.
“Maybe Student Life isn’t noticing these things,” said CWB vice presidential candidate Christian Sanchez, but “a lot of the platform items for Suit Up Baruch are platform items that we had” originally, citing “club empowerment,” which is at least in language a part of the CWB platform.
To these accusations Slava responded with, “we [obviously] began shortly after [CWB], but our platform…” he trailed off – visibly unsettled – before continuing, “to say that club empowerment is a platform item that can be stolen…” he trailed off again before pointing at the shirts worn by his CWB competitors and almost shouting, “Look at your logo. That’s my design,” which caused uproar in the crowd that took several moments to quiet down.
Wei said later in interview, “We didn’t want to fire back on the issue of the logo,” adding jokingly, “The entire debate could’ve turned into an Oscar-winning drama if we’d let it.”
Looking into the platforms for CWB and Suit Up Baruch, one thing they share is their interest in increasing the transparency of USG and the use of Student Activity Fees, though their approaches to this issue are quite different.
Sara Dowd said during the debate, “USG often comes off as a body that is kind of unapproachable to a lot of clubs. It's frightening to ask for help, and we want to help them get involved.”
Dowd, who is President of Sigma Alpha Delta, is not currently involved with USG in a direct sense. In her words, “Coming from the club leader perspective, we have had a lot of frustrations with USG. There’s a love for the school and a passion for the school among club people,” and both her and her running mate feel this passion is somewhat suppressed by USG’s current approach, especially to events.
As mentioned earlier, Brodetskiy expressed in a pre-debate interview that Suit Up Baruch wants to scale back USG’s role in campus events and leave more breathing room for not only the clubs, but for individual students as well.
“I want to provide a way for a single student to host his or her own event,” he said in the same interview. “There may be a lot of students who are unfamiliar with clubs on campus or may not understand the structure of student life.”
This provision would include, in his vision, “a pilot program,” where students could learn about the process for hosting their own events and then go about creating them. “We want to get student ideas, make promises, and then follow through.”
Dowd added that they aim to create an environment in which USG is as “transparent as possible,” and that if elected they will strive to “hold [themselves] accountable to the students.”
In the debate, Brodetskiy explained that his vision of transparency involves “quarterly reportsso every single person and club will know what the money is being spent on.”
He voiced one concern shared by many students about the state of the restroom facilities on campus in a jab at the funding that is being directed at the Student Center building project as well, further explaining his party’s transparency bid.
“We're getting three floors,” said Brodetskiy. “Everyone should know that each of those floors would hold no more than 70 people. People should know that a million dollars a year will only help 210 people at a time.”
CWB also believes that the USG’s finances should be “as transparent as any other club budget,” according to Wei.
Sanchez added a question that caused some stir about the amount of money pulled in by Student Activity Fees.
“How many [people] know [there is currently] what it is about $1.5 million earmarked and [those] don't change unless USG puts in a referendum?” Later in interview, Sanchez clarified this point.
”There was a misperception of the amount of money that I presented,” he said, “the $1.5 million. It’s a number that comes from Student Activity Fees. What I meant by that is that the students actually have the capacity and say of appropriating the funds,” not that this is the amount of money in the annual budget for clubs and other casual spending.
Wei explained post-debate, “I wish for the administration to make their meetings more transparent, i.e. putting their minutes up with us. Furthermore, we intend to try to get the entire mailing list of the school. So far USG has been relying on signup sheets, resulting in having very few emails submitted.” This implies that a large factor in the lack of student involvement could be due to lack of current outreach.
One thing he mentioned in the debate, the “Townhouse meeting” that was held by Student Life last semester with all the clubs in which they were able to directly address their concerns and get their questions answered was something he elaborated further on in the post-debate interview.
“The meeting is run by Student Life, they said that the point of the meeting was to gather and understand the clubs’ concerns and comments. Everyone was in support of that; it was a great idea.” Everything seemed to be going well at the meeting as “the moderator explained that we…would be able to voice our concerns directly with Student Life. Everyone thought it was great, that we should do it again.”
But when “she went on to say that this would happen about once a semester…the room fell silent.”
Wei says that this is part of his party’s transparency bid. If everyone is talking about the fiscal matters on a regular basis, he feels that transparency will be organic rather than forced.
He went further to mention that a “Club Connect meeting also occurred last semester after the townhouse meeting and a lot of people said they showed up because of how good the townhouse meeting was. If they did these more often, things would be way better off.”
Wei said the next Townhouse meeting was supposed to be scheduled already, “There was supposed to be one this semester, it hasn’t happened yet. Nobody in Student Life has brought it up yet, I haven’t asked around about it, but I haven’t heard anything either.”
The thing is, this year’s USG has already gone to great lengths to bring about Baruch Connect, a website that just recently entered into “2.0” status and is geared at specifically dealing with transparency issues among other things.
On the website, which is set up to streamline all club outreach and social media, the USG budget will be available for all to see. The updated version of the site was officially launched on Thursday April 5, and it throws a wrench into the works for parties who have based a large part of their platform focus on transparency.
Chris Catalano expressed in a post-debate interview that as far as transparency goes, he doesn’t see it as something to build a party around.
“It’s not a platform point,” he said, “it’s just the way things should be. Nothing that USG does is really secret or private.” He also added that with the advent of Baruch Connect 2.0, “I would say the transparency point is a moot point.”
The Student Center
The issue of the Student Center building is another one that shows a rift between all the parties, giving voters a clue as to which way USG will be aimed depending on which team takes office.
As noted in earlier comments, Suit Up Baruch is not so keen on the current building project or its reliability as a true source of added value to the students.
“In terms of expanding the campus, we should continue to do so as long as it's financially sustainable,” said Brodetskiy. “That being said we should not sacrifice this building to get a new building,” referring to the Vertical Campus. As far as the new Student Center Building, he said, “it will cost $42 million to buy over 10 years.”
Sanchez from CWB jumped on this point in a post-debate interview, explaining that “There’s no actual fund set aside” for the purchase of the building, only the $1 million a year that is being allocated from the Student Activity Fees.
Wei, who was on the committee that put together the Student Center Building proposal two years ago clarified on this point that “at the time, the people working on the plan said that once the school gets the building, the city will step in to buy the building for the school.”
To further explain this, Wei is referring to a practice that is common in the city, which involves government purchase of real estate property for schools and other public institutions once they have shown steady contribution and commitment to the real estate in question.
“The idea is that after 10-15 years of [the school paying] $1 million, the city would most likely step in and purchase it. That was the original plan. Most of the time, the city will step in and purchase it,” said Wei.
Current USG President Antonio Alfonso said in a Ticker interview on the Student Center Building, “The plan that we went forward with in 2011 focused not on public funding, but on private funding…and alumni donations.”
Though Wei was on the original steering committee for the project, it has since undergone major changes including a switch from the original plan to purchase a building on the southwest corner of 24th and Lexington to the current plan to buy the 25th Street building. So, the plan to have the city step in isn’t currently on the table, though that isn’t to say that bringing in outside funding isn’t in the plan.
Alfonso went on to say that attaining private funds has “always been the bulk focus. The capital that the school gets…if the school gets any money, it will probably go toward seventeen Lex.”
Santiago Mueckay, the VP hopeful for A Better Baruch said during the debate, “I'm on Board of Directors [for the student center building]. We've been talking about this building since before we brought everyone in. We're renting to buy…we can change it however we want once we own the building in 10 years,” suggesting a more long-term vision in regards to Student Center valuation.
Student Activity Fees for spiritual leaders
An issue that has been slinking into the forefront of school politics is whether or not religious officials should receive a stipend for providing religious services on campus. Three members of Baruch’s Muslim student population, Noureen Ramzan, Mashud Abukari and Yafees Sarwar, with their recent Offical Counsellor Proposal for Baruch College, have come to be at the center of a push for such compensation. Among the parties, there are differing viewpoints as to whether or not this is something that should be considered.
The proposal, written by the students “on behalf of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Women in Islam (WII),” expresses their belief that “current Chaplain Imam Samer Alraey [should] be officially offered a position [of] counselor with reasonable compensation.”
The impetus for this push, they say is that after six years of his continued presence on Campus, “we are facing the possibility of losing [Chaplain Imam Alraey] since it has become difficult for him to continue his services due to lack of proper financial accomodations.”
From A Better Baruch, Catalano says, “this a very touchy issue, and we’ve been talking about it at our Senate meetings for a while now.” He went on, “I said it before then and I’ll say it again now, I don't think religious, or spiritual advisors should be funded by student activity fees.”
“There's a separation between church and state,” he went on. “There are privately funded religious advisors on campus. I think the Imam is doing great work and I feel he should be compensated, but not from the students.”
Brodetskiy also took this stance, saying, “I agree with Chris – there shouldn't be student activity fees supporting religious figures. There is a psychologist on staff [in the counseling center] and if students need help they can go there.”
Dowd added in a post-debate interview, however, that Suit Up Baruch feels “It should be voted upon. The elected student government shouldn’t make that decision, the students should. Our own personal opinions shouldn’t matter.”
Wei also expressed that he felt that students should vote on this. “As a party though, we do believe that students should have spiritual leadership. It’s unfair to say that [spiritual leaders] shouldn’t get stipends.”
He did say, however, that “Just because they deserve a stipend, doesn’t mean they should be paid a whole lot. They shouldn’t be paid that much. Spiritual leaders are important to the school, but promoting general happiness is more important.”
The role of social media
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this race so far has been the role of social media in the shaping of the parties and campaigns.
It has proven to be integral to the communication of each party with its members and constituencies, which is to be expected. And of course through social media, there have been floods of the typical campaign sloganry and bombasticisms that have become associated unequivocally with American elections.
But social media has also served as a platform for other individuals to publicly question and criticize the parties’ claims and aims, and for people with access to official party logon information to post inflammatory remarks in response to public feedback.
A Better Baruch was the first to launch their Facebook profile, announcing their candidacy through the site on March 13. This caused a stir within CWB, who through a comment on the Better Baruch Facebook page accused Better Baruch of violating Student Election Review Committee (SERC) guidelines by “campaigning” before the official start date.
The concerns were brought to the attention of Shadia Sachedina, Director of the Office of Student Life, and on March 21, she personally reached out to each of the parties via email and gave them the “go ahead” to start campaigning, after which both teams began canvassing in earnest.
It was also through social media that the news began to spread about the stepping down of original CWB presidential candidate Adam Camacho and the formation of Suit Up Baruch.
Brodetskiy, from his own personal Facebook account, announced the new party, which at first was going to include Adam Camacho as Treasurer.
“Firstly, I apologize that some of us have been missing in recent days,” he began, “there is a specific reason for this.” He went on to explain, “A few people from Connect have joined us, including Adam,” and they left the party because they “were unhappy and uncomfortable with the efficiency and effectiveness of [CWB] meetings, the tarnished image of CWB, and the leadership.”
The tarnished image of CWB being referring to is the negative response that the team got due to their challenge of A Better Baruch on Facebook regarding SERC guidelines.
Camacho said on his Facebook later on the same night that Brodetskiy announced Suit Up Baruch, “With so many of [our] strong members leaving so quickly, I was not sure we could still run a campaign without the core of our team. I was approached by them to join as treasurer.”
“I originally decided that this would still be a great opportunity to work together…and fix our issue with image to have a fighting chance against A Better Baruch,” he said. But later, he added, “Now I am no longer running for USG,” though he plans on “working with whoever wins the election for next year.”
Although he seems to still be endorsing some of the membership of CWB in his comment he said, “I feel extremely uncomfortable abandoning the same people I have confidence in to Connect Baruch,” he also encouraged students interested in getting involved to “contact Slava to join his team, create a new team, or run independently to fight and see the change you all want to see at Baruch College.”
Throughout the weekend following these events, commentary was abundant across all lines with a good deal of input from current USG members. In fact, throughout the campaigning, some USG members have been extremely vocal on the pages of this year’s parties and candidates as they make official statements and promises.
In one Facebook standoff that caused some waves, current USG Treasurer Ramneet Sachdev questioned the platform of Suit Up on their page.
Sachdev needed “some further clarification” about the Suit Up plan to shift the focus of USG “from a governing body to a support system for student life.”
Her biggest criticism of the Suit Up plan appeared to be that clubs are already not spending all of their money every year, so if USG also stops booking rooms and hosting events, there will be a massive surplus that will lead to CUNY removing some of the current Baruch Student Life funding.
Her comment was promptly replied to under the Suit Up account by Will Ortiz, a Suit Up Baruch member, who at the time had administrative privileges for the Suit Up Facebook page. His scalding reply first attacks the commenter before taking on a condescending finish note that reads, “If you took time to read our platform, the one that's too specific for your liking, it says take a step back from being a overbearing body.”
He then criticizes the current USG’s events, which he claims were failures, such as “the rave party, club connect or even that bias award ceremony you guys call the bernies.”
After further slashing at Ramneet’s inquiry, he ends his comment, “I feel a good USG focuses more on generating excitement on events the student body would actually want to see happen rather than some ‘crazy party.’ I just want to end on a constructive note for better Baruch, "it is time for the student government candidates to get serious and get their message across, because party names, shirts and stickers won't matter this year." Suit up!!!”
The comment was later removed from the Suit Up account, though Ortiz posted it again under his own login, standing by his commentary, saying in a later comment explaining the shift, “I asked to be removed because I don’t want my opinions to interfere with the tasteful campaign Suit Up Baruch stands for.”
Vice presidential candidate Sara Dowd emailed The Ticker officially denouncing what she calls “the great Facebook controversy of 2012.”
“Facebook is such a social phenomenon that it ends up playing a huge part in student government elections. While we invite Baruchians to use our page, to ask questions and communicate with us, we've also seen the page used as a very public way to attack our team. Although the commenter is not a candidate on any team, the individuals that ‘liked’ her statement as well as her affiliations made it obvious that the point of her post was to berate Suit Up for the benefit of another team.”
Dowd went on to explain, “We have a lot of passionate candidates as well as enthused supporters who are not running with us. One of these supporters was temporarily made an administrator on our page and responded with his personal opinions from our group page,” referring to the Will Ortiz Comment.
“Suit Up does not support Internet squabbling and will only respond to comments posted on our page that are relevant to the issues in order to the properly represent our ideas,” she concluded.
This and many other heated comment strings can be found by scrolling through the public Facebook pages for the three parties, A Better Baruch, Connect with Baruch, and Suit Up Baruch.
As the parties prepare for the next episode of The Debates, hosted this Thursday during club hours by The Ticker, WBMB, and Lexicon in VC 3-150 at 12:45, students can visit The Ticker’s website or Facebook page to hear the audio of the first debate.
Students can be sure that there will be plenty of continued discourse that will make following the campaigns closely absolutely worth it.
For the full audio of the first debate visit: http://editor5014.podomatic.com/entry/2012-04-17T17_08_59-07_00