Tune into RUSA debates


Where will you be at 7 p.m? A better question is where should you be, and I believe that I may have the answer. The candidates who are vying for the position of Rutgers University Student Assembly president will face off today, at 7 p.m. in the Eagleton Institute of Politics on the Douglass campus in the University's first-ever presidential debate. This event will be broadcasted live on RU-TV channel 60 and by WRSU. At stake for School of Arts and Sciences junior Yousef Saleh, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore Sam Firmin and School of Arts and Science junior John Aspray is the office of president. In the balance lies the future of the University community during a most troubling time.

We stand in the midst of annual budget cuts from Trenton, reduced access to services from Old Queens, difficulty securing fair housing off-campus, difficulty securing any housing on-campus and the loss of sacred traditions everywhere. It goes without saying that your choice for president matters during this critical point in University history. Your decision will influence whether the University continues to experience the RU Screw year after year as our government in Trenton continues to cut millions of dollars from higher education. Your decision will determine whether student government can influence the priorities of the University administration that embarks on multimillion-dollar expansions of football and basketball stadiums, while leaving hundreds of its students without housing year after year. In short, your decision will decide whether you have a leader who stands up for you.

In order to determine which candidate will be best able to stand up for you, you must make an informed decision in this decisive election. The campaign flyers postered up and down College Avenue, the dozens of invitations to campaign groups on Facebook, the awkward posts about RUSA on Isawyourutgers.com — yes, they actually exist — and the endorsements of the likes of Rutgers College seniors Eric Knecht and Brian Canares and Red Bandanna Kid are not enough to help you make an informed and independent decision. For you to be able to do that, you should visit the campaign websites of the three contenders for president:

Yousef Saleh: www.saleh2010.com

John Aspray: www.rutgersunited.com

Sam Firmin: www.samfirmin2010.com.

Tonight's debate will give you an additional opportunity to learn more about each candidate. The debate will cover a wide range of topics, including the organizational structure of RUSA, issues in the University community and pieces of each candidate's platform. The specific subjects and questions were formulated by me and have not been shared with or cleared with anybody on the campaign or in the media. This means that each question will give you an uninhibited view of the beliefs, experiences and plans of each candidate.

As final exams, papers and projects draw near, the future of student government at RUSA may simply not be on your mind. The opportunity to watch an invigorating debate against three exceptional student leaders may seem completely unimportant, and the chance for you to ask your own questions may not be your first priority. While I could attempt to bribe you with the delicious cake and coffee that will be served immediately after the debate, I will refrain from doing so.

Instead, let me remind you that for year after year over the course of over a decade, state aid to the University has gone down while our term bill has gone up. While I love the University with all of my heart and appreciate the unimaginable opportunities that she has given me, I must remind you that stadiums have undergone multimillion-dollar Renaissances while academic and residential buildings — still home to asbestos from the 1950s — have rotted and deteriorated to the point that visitors would be well-justified in thinking that the River Dorms on the College Avenue campus were housing projects and Hickman Hall on Douglass campus is an abandoned asylum for the insane. Students have been herded off into far-away hotels every night for the course of an entire academic year while grandiose welcome centers have been built. A corrupt and sleazy city government whose only concern is to remain in power for an additional 30 years has effectively silenced University students. Promises such as The Greening Project on College Avenue has not been delivered, and in their stead students are told that they will receive a few renovated bus stops. Commencement has been altered from an intimate tradition that takes place in a beautifully wooded lawn with peers who have shared a common experience to an assembly-line process in a newly finished stadium that lacks the a true sense of University history, spirit and tradition.

If you are happy with the direction that the University is going in — if you are content — I encourage you to go about your usual routine. As you return from take-out to your residence hall with your with your soggy sub and Hostess dessert, and as you walk through a hallway that most likely reeks of bathroom and cheap beer, realize that you are letting the University become the way that it is becoming. Your apathy and lack of interest in participating in the governance of this University is your decision, and the consequences are yours to own.

Should you have a different future in mind for the University and more importantly, yourself, there is no reason, besides class, that I should not see you today at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at 7 p.m. You can also check out RU-TV channel 60 and WRSU, which will broadcast the event live. Tonight is your opportunity to make sure that you have a strong body president who can mobilize the others to attain measurable results. Tonight is your opportunity to better understand and participate in the decisions that are made by the undergraduate community. Tonight is your opportunity to chart the future course of the University. Seize it!

Ben West is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science and chief organizer of RUSA's 2010 elections. He can be reached at rusaelections .-@-. gmail.com with questions about the elections.


Ben West

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