SA presidential candidates debate future of Rice
The Student Association Presidential Debate on Monday addressed concerns about the economy, Duncan and McMurtry Colleges, and the future of the SA. The contenders are Brown College junior Patrick McAnaney, Martel College sophomore Nicholas Muscara, Martel College senior Alexander Crompton and Jones College junior Matthew Weingast. The debates were hosted by RTV5 and the Rice Thresher and moderated by Backpage co-editor Timothy Faust, who is also the SA Director of Elections.
Each candidate opened with a one-minute statement, which was followed by a one minute response two moderator questions. Candidates then had 30 seconds to answer anonymous questions from the audience, read by the moderator. They could rebut a statement for 15 seconds, and the candidate being rebutted had 15 seconds to respond to the rebuttal. Two more moderator questions followed, and each candidate had a minute to respond. The debates concluded with a two-minute closing statement from each candidate.
McAnaney, co-chair of the SA Environmental Committee, began by discussing his accomplishments in the SA, which included adding more bike racks, displaying more art on campus, creating a lost and found for students to retrieve items collected by Rice University Police, and reducing Rice's carbon footprint. He stressed the need for senators to get more involved in the SA, and the importance of the SA having a more visible role in colleges.
Muscara, SA External Vice President, said Rice is no longer the same as it was a few years ago and that it was important to unify the colleges.
"I feel that the greatest potential for the Rice Student Association has yet to be maximized," Muscara said.
He said he would work with incoming college presidents to accomplish these goals.
Crompton opened with a poem, which Faust described as "innovative."
"Administrative popsicles, staining the sheets," Crompton said. "Banners like linens hung fresh, washing away the autonomous seed of Martel - Lovett - Baker - Duncan conceived, unborn! Only the cleansing fires of change will reveal the blotch."
Weingast said the Vision for the Second Century has brought changes with little regard for student life and that the SA had lost touch with the students it represent, adding that the SA should act as a better liaison between the students and the administration.
"The SA, at times, has seemed more like a club than a representative, approachable body," Weingast said.
To start off the round of questions, Faust asked all the candidates, "What is the role of the SA President?"
McAnaney said the president must be a bridge between the student body and the administration. He said the president's most important roles are delegation and inspiring senators and new student representatives.
Muscara said the president must ensure the SA is run correctly and delegate and delineate responsibilities to the colleges.
Crompton only spoke in verse throughout the debate.
Weingast said the SA was the primary liaison between students and the administration.
"The SA is the one organization [the administration] has to make time for," Weingast said.
Faust then asked the candidates what role the SA would play in shaping the new colleges.
Muscara said he would work with the administration to form a transition team to ascertain the limits of the new colleges' interactions with other colleges. He said the degree of involvement Baker and Will Rice colleges would have in the new colleges was also an important issue.
Crompton said that Duncan and McMurtry freshman should not look forward to being welcomed.
"As president, I will resent the new colleges," Crompton said.
Weingast said it was important for the SA to learn from the mistakes made when Martel opened. He said the SA must implement plans that will allow the new colleges to create their own culture.
McAnaney said many people must be involved in the discussion over Duncan and McMurtry colleges.
The first question from the audience asked all candidates how they would make new students feel a part of the SA.
Muscara said he would make students more aware of what was going on in the SA.
"I plan on having Student Association press updates and meeting minutes regularly distributed throughout the colleges," Muscara said.
McAnaney said he would begin engaging new students during Orientation Week. He said he would also continue to develop the role of the New Student Representative.
Weingast said he would reach out to clubs and organizations, a connection that he says has been lacking in the past.
The audience next questioned what SA-related academic goals were important.
Weingast said issues currently being addressed, such as the add/drop deadlines, were most important.
Muscara said the add/drop deadlines needed to be moved and that the Academics Committee needed to find more opportunities for undergraduates in research and fellowships.
McAnaney said the SA has started to address key issues, such as academic advising, the common reading book and transfer credit for students who have studied abroad. He said the SA must cultivate its relationship with the Faculty Senate.
"If we want to make any strides in academics, we need to make sure we continue that relationship," McAnaney said.
The audience asked Muscara why he was running as a rising junior, to which he responded that running as a rising junior was not unprecedented. He said he is the only candidate with executive experience, and that serving as External Vice President this year has taught him how to get things done.
The audience asked Crompton, "Do you have any respect for this institution whatsoever?"
Crompton said he had had his fingers sucked by a dumpster behind a strip mall and a finger burnt by a match.
The audience asked Weingast what economic impacts and financial limits he has seen imposed on clubs.
Weingast said that as the president of club baseball, he has experienced the change to the BANNER system firsthand.
"Taking away the budgets is taking away trust from students," Weingast said.
A member of the audience asked Crompton and Weingast how many SA meetings they had attended, since both do not currently hold SA positions.
Crompton said during SA meetings, he has sat outside the door.
"I have watched you as you let my tuition hike, so I had to work," he said.
Weingast said he had been to six meetings before the debate, but that he went to several during his freshman year. He said he is an active member of the SA and has leadership experience.
The audience asked Muscara and McAnaney what their ideas were for increasing SA attendance.
McAnaney said he would get the senators more involved. He said he has noticed that more people from Brown would come to SA meetings when there were people from Brown involved, such as current SA president Matt Youn, a Brown senior and former SA president Laura Kelley (Brown '08).
Muscara said he would fix communication issues so that the SA could have a better relationship with college presidents.
The next question asked all candidates what they would do to address concerns about construction.
Weingast said he would form a committee with leaders from current and previously-affected colleges. He said policies this year had been implemented with great disregard for what students needed and that he would prevent this from happening to the south colleges next year.
McAnaney said the SA set a precedent for working with the administration last year to solve problems by adding lights along the path around the North colleges and a bus stop, as well as widening the path to accommodate handicapped students.
"The SA should talk to college presidents at the beginning of the year, see what their concerns are, and see if they want to go through the SA to address them," he said.
Muscara said the SA needed to identify how construction was going to affect each college.
The audience asked Weingast what specific issues he wanted to work with the administration on and how he wanted to accomplish these goals.
Weingast said the South colleges needed to be accommodated to ensure that the construction would not negatively affect them. He said the integration of Duncan and McMurtry presented a unique situation and that the SA must ensure they did not become too reliant on Will Rice and Baker.
The audience asked McAnaney what he could do about the economic crisis as it affected Rice.
McAnaney said Rice must look at the impact of the crisis in the long term and ensure that students are involved in the process of setting the university's budget.
"Budget cuts are the tip of the iceberg," McAnaney said. "We need to be proactive, not reactive."
In a rebuttal, Muscara said the SA needed to ascertain what was going on and set up a forum with leaders from the administration.
"I'm in the process of setting up a forum with President David Leebron and other adminstrative officials to explain the financial state," he said.
The audience asked Muscara how he would avoid meddling too much in college issues.
Muscara said that if he created a good, dynamic relationship between the SA and the colleges, it would not be a problem. He said the SA should be a forum to which individual colleges could bring their concerns so that the student body as a whole could collaborate to find a way to solve their problems.
The audience asked Crompton what his concerns were in regard to the future of the alcohol policy.
"One fine day, all God's children can drink booze," Crompton said.
Faust then asked the candidates what the greatest challenges for the SA were last year.
Weingast said academic deadlines were key. Muscara said the switch to the BANNER system affected the colleges' autonomy, but hopefully the SA could continue to collaborate with members from the administration.
McAnaney said getting a forum on the BANNER change was good and that it was commendable that the SA was working with the budget office. He said, however, that he felt more could have been done to address the problem sooner.
"We're talking about a 20 to 25 percent reduction the endowment, that's like a billion dollars," he said.
Faust asked the candidates what the greatest challenge for 2009 will be.
Muscara said the presidential transition within the SA would be challenging and that it was vital to keep the SA strong internally. He said budget and tuition increases, as well as financial aid fluctuations must be monitored. He also listed student quality of life as a concern.
McAnaney said that working with the Center for Student Professional Development to ensure they offered more opportunities to students in sectors other than engineering and consulting.
Weingast said all undergraduates must understand that they are part of the SA.
"We can talk about how quality of life is diminishing, but unless we feel comfortable bringing these issues to the SA, we cannot bring these issues to the administration," Weingast said.
In his closing statement, McAnaney said the SA was his passion and that he was pleased to see so many people in attendance.
"If elected your president, I promise I will do everything in my power by the end of my term to make you as proud to call yourself members of the SA as you are of your residential colleges," McAnaney said.
Muscara emphasized his experience working in the SA this year and said it would help him be a more efficient president next year.
Crompton closed by expressing his anger.
"The revolution begins at the hardware store," Crompton said. "I promise you bright times are coming. Pick up your hammers at the hardware store. Wear shoes you can run in." He continued: "Rage! Rage! Rage! Rage! Rage! Rage! Rage! ... Outrage."
Weingast said he would reintroduce the concept of accountability at the SA and ensure it becomes more visible and more accessible.
Weingast said quality of life was also a concern.
"I will return quality of life to the way it was," Weingast said. "We had No. 1 quality of life just three years ago, so let's bring it back."
Elections begin today and end Wednesday at noon. Students can vote for SA president, as well as other positions on campus and blanket tax proposals at sa.rice.edu.
Casey Michel contributed to this article.