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Highlighting the necessity of accurately representing the student body, the three candidates running for the Associated Students, Inc. presidency voiced similar concerns during a public debate held Tuesday in the University Student Union.
Outlining the aims of their campaigns, sophomore Jared Bertoni, graduate student Lizbeth De La Cruz and senior Moses Menchaca each offered their opinions on issues such as student fee increases, transparency in ASI funding and how to engage student involvement in ASI legislation.
During the debate, hosted by The Collegian, candidates were asked a series of questions by moderator Jesse Franz, The Collegian’s news editor. In this interactive style discussion, members of the audience, as well as the candidates themselves, were able to pose questions.
The consistent theme of the one-hour debate was being the voice of the student body and acting as the “bridge” between students and university administration as described, by De La Cruz.
“We have the voice from the students,” said De La Cruz, a member of Club Austral. “We have to make sure we are aware of everything the students feel they need here on campus and their opinions of issues.”
Menchaca, ASI’s current president, said it is was “imperative the students are at the decision-making table.”
“As they say, if you’re not at the table, you’re being eaten at the table,” Menchaca said.”
Bertoni, ASI’s current senator in charge of clubs and organizations, said the role of ASI president is “going to administrative meetings knowing what the students want.”
Yet while all candidates emphasized student representation and increased communicaion, what set each presidential contender apart from the other?
Menchaca said his “reelection is imperative” now more than ever due to the transitional phase Fresno State is currently experiencing with administration changes.
“One thing that only happens once every 20 to 30 years is the changes that are occurring,” Menchaca said. “The president is new, three out of four vice presidents are new and there are more changes to come. With these changes I feel it is imperative that the student voice remains strong and constant.”
While Menchaca used the idea of a second term as a means to ensure consistency, De La Cruz instead suggested her novel involvement in ASI means she has “fresh eyes and new ideas on how to help ASI reach out to more students.”
“It’s my first year trying to get involved with ASI, so I’ll have a fresh look into campus, especially ASI policies,” De La Cruz said.
A first generation college student, De La Cruz also said if elected she would work to create more resources for education, using the example of increased library hours.
“I want to be able to help out the students to be able to graduate within a positive timeframe,” she said.
Bertoni offered a point of difference by advocating for an increased allocation of funds to student clubs and organizations. He said ASI’s funding distribution is the “best way to give students back” the money they pay for university fees.
“Currently it’s $86,000 I believe allocated,” Bertoni said. “I want to get that up to $120,000 next year.”
De La Cruz and Bertoni were similar in both advocating for transparency about university fees and ASI funding. They also discussed the importance of increasing student awareness about who their ASI representatives were. Bertoni said the lack of knowledge within the student body about who leaders are “scares” him.
The student fee increases proposed for fall 2015 was another topic the three candidates had an opportunity to discuss. The university administration will decide next year whether to implement the two fee increases, one geared toward student success and the other aimed toward athletics.
All three said they would need further information about how the fees would be used and how the student population felt about the increases before having an opinion.
“Can’t say you support or deny it when you don’t know exactly where it’s going to,” Menchaca said.
Menchaca and Bertoni suggested ideas to provide students with the opportunity to express their views, whether they agreed or disagreed with the increases.
De La Cruz, on the other hand, said making sure the students were informed was important to the decision. She suggested ASI could work to “contact all the students” through avenues such as email to inform the student body about both the positives and negatives of fee increases.
De La Cruz also said she felt “ASI has money here on campus that can support the payment of other things” that the fee increase may cover.
“I feel like we have to work with what we have,” De La Cruz said. “If not, then yeah, we do have to support a fee increase in tuition, depending if it’s beneficial for education.”
In light of ASI’s last senate meeting, in which students, faculty and alumni expressed concern about discrimination due to club funding allocation, all candidates were questioned about how they were linked to the dispute.
A member from the public questioned Menchaca and Bertoni about ASI’s decision to limit public comment to one minute per person during the March 5 meeting. He said it was “contradictory” after both candidates focused on “hearing the voice of the students” during the presidential debate.
Bertoni apologized and said that they limited public comment in order to “keep an effective meeting.”
Menchaca said ASI encourages student opinions and he appreciated the “five to six” students who spoke at the meeting, but said the “majority of people” who did speak were not students.
“The second we start getting community members and faculty coming and yelling at our students [ASI senators] and not fostering an environment of education and growth, then we have to put some restraints and guidelines in order for the safety of ASI representatives,” Menchaca said.
Both Bertoni and a member of the public asked De La Cruz, who is involved with M.E.Ch.A – the main group behind the protest of ASI’s meetings, about how she would eliminate bias and agenda in such controversies about Latino issues.
De La Cruz said while she has connections to minority cultures, she is aware about the importance of being detached from such situations and said she’d “present the truth of both sides and have the public determine” their opinion.
Menchaca asked Bertoni, as senator of clubs and organizations, how he felt he handled the M.E.Ch.A funding issue. Bertoni said while he had no “vote or say” in the decision, he could have been “more aware” and done more “advocating” for the student clubs involved.
Several Greek affiliated members of the audience questioned Menchaca’s accelerated initiation into Pi Kappa Alpha and his lack of outreach to the Greek community during his presidency in the past year.
Daniel Clark, a business marketing major and member of California State Student Association, said he felt all three candidates had suitable leadership experience heading into the position.
“You are underpaid, you are overworked and you’re never thanked for the work that you do – it’s a really thankless job,” Clark said. “I think these candidates have a really good idea of what they’re getting themselves into, and I’m excited for them.”
Clark said he would like to see ASI improve its communication to students and to continue a culture of “high moral ethics” despite senators changing yearly, issues he said are present statewide.
“They only have 365 days to do all the goals they have in mind, and it’s really crucial they have that institutional memory built in,” Clark said.
Victoria Cueveas, a sociology major, said she felt the candidates were “dancing around the questions” during the debate and were not being effective with their answers.
“I think I was just kind of disappointed with the lack of answers we actually got as students,” Cueveas said.