RUSA debate goes on
In particularly important elections in which there is quite a bit at stake, it is often customary for major newspapers and their editorial staffs to write in support of one specific candidate over the other. It is no secret, for instance, that The New York Times wrote in support of President Barack Obama for his 2008 bid. That being said, we Tuesday columnists do not take our responsibilities lightly here at The Daily Targum, and understand that with an upcoming election of such magnitude as Rutgers University Student Assembly's, we have a clear obligation to make our positions readily understood. More to the point, as Trenton continues to cut the University budget to the size of something comparable to that of a modest public library, it is imperative that we elect strong student leaders who can maintain what is left.
Given that this is the first time RUSA is running external elections –– meaning people on campus actually get to vote –– we expected the campaign atmosphere to get intense.
We could have never anticipated what has occurred.
Below is a Gmail chat transcript between the two of us that occurred two days ago. After re-reading the conversation, we thought the transcript said it all. So, instead of writing a formal endorsement column, we believe it is better to simply publish our exchange.
Brian: Eric, did you read the letter from April 13, "RUSA election brings student interests forward?"
Eric: I made an honest attempt. But I have to admit I got distracted when something more interesting came up on Book-TV.
B: Well in any case, he took a shot at our beloved Rutgers Debate Union. He said, "RUSA is not just a frivolous debate union that merely argues but never actually does anything about real-world issues. Instead, RUSA has an increasingly strong track record of actually impacting policies on the campus and even the federal levels."
E: I suppose it is pretty ironic to be told you are not doing anything important from someone in RUSA. By federal levels, the author must have meant the resolution demanding that the U.S. Congress support increased funding for Teach For America. Indeed, I am sure our congressional representatives are giving RUSA's resolution the same careful attention they give to all student government requests, like those asking for government subsidized marijuana, a drinking age of 14 and the prohibition of Friday classes.
B: Not to mention, he forgot to recount the countless resolutions that pertain to reforming RUSA itself and the irrelevant ones that are passed but not enforced by University officials.
E: But Brian, let's be fair, the author is right when he says they pass resolutions that impact campus life a great deal. Consider one of their most recent resolutions commending the University for canceling classes due to snow on February 10. That's powerful stuff. My only complaint is that RUSA did not go far enough. They should probably spend more time commending the University for things that should be expected in the status quo, like not allowing teachers to hit students for incorrect answers, or giving out extra credit for beating up the annoying kid who sits in the front and asks too many questions. We really should be praising our school when it gets things right.
B: But on a serious note, the letter has really gotten me motivated about this year's election. I decided to take the initiative and check out who was running for each position. After perusing through the really professional RUSA elections website, I found that Yousef Saleh is running for RUSA chair. At this point, I became very excited, as I thought he could be the one person to really change the problems within student government.
E: I totally agree. In fact, anyone who has the balls to wear a suit to class everyday would get my vote regardless of their views. Plus I hear he is Palestinian, meaning it would be the first time in world history that the Palestinians would have a voice in government. It would be just historic. But let's be serious for a moment, why do you support Saleh?
B: For one, the kid's humble beginnings in Jersey City give him the best possible background to represent the University. Growing up, he spent his days walking down the dangerous streets of Kennedy Boulevard and being forced to eat the knock-off brands of popular fast food chains. This makes him the most apt to understand the economic disposition of young college students who generally have no money and are required to eat at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus.
Moreover, Saleh has been exposed to a usually large amount of diversity as a young child. Jersey City has specific areas in which different races, such as Arab, Indian, and Filipino, have been known to congregate with each other –– it is practically the University on a much larger scale. This gives him the ability to empathize with different racial groups and propose policies that cater to all students regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, or religion.
But most importantly, Saleh went to McNair Academic High School, one of the best institutions of learning in the nation. He had to apply himself and overcome the rigorous academic nature of the school, despite his position in life. This experience ultimately allows him to fully grasp the importance of academics at our University. We both know that the University is no longer the public Ivy that we wish it to be — we go as far as stating it in our columns. I really think Saleh could help bring back the standard of academic excellence that we craved for the last four years.
E: Agreed. But my only issue is this: Can someone who dresses so sharp be taken seriously?
B: It is interesting you say that. I have heard his critics say, "If elected to RUSA chair, no one will ever take him seriously." However, I think the opposite will occur. Wearing suits seems to be his attempt to actually bring legitimacy to the organization. Can you imagine if University President Richard L. McCormick showed up to meetings in jeans and T-shirts? It would only reinforce Gov. Chris Christie's belief that University cuts were justified. It is important that RUSA representatives start treating the organization as if it were a legitimate wing of the administration — even if it isn't. Because Saleh dresses the way he acts, it is only a matter of time before he brings a little more credibility to RUSA.
E: You're right. But if you had one thing to say about Saleh that would motivate students to take the extraordinarily time-consuming initiative, all of 30 seconds, to log online and vote, what would it be?
B: Saleh is not the most conciliatory candidate in this election. He may take polarizing stances on issues and be sometimes outright abrasive. But this is exactly what our student government needs — someone who will take action. In the past few years, the organization has been passive in its attempt to represent the students. Saleh brings the aggressiveness needed to challenge the administration and fight for our cause against issues, such as tuition hikes and increased enrollment. Most of all, however, I admire his genuine attempt to improve the quality of life at the University. Even if I do not agree with his political stances or views, I cannot deny the fact that he is devoted to making meaningful change. He dedicates every waking hour to this ultimate goal. In these last few minutes, you completely trashed student government. However, in spite of your obvious disrespect for RUSA, I believe Saleh is someone who will actually change the status quo. If we are going to trash the organization, we should at least be in support of people we think might improve it.
Brian is a Rutgers College senior majoring in history and political science.
Eric is a Rutgers College senior majoring in history and economics.