RUSA?candidates discuss stances on student issues
The Rutgers University Student Assembly held a formal debate between two presidential candidates yesterday as part of the election campaign for the upcoming academic year.
RUSA Treasurer Scott Siegel and RUSA Vice President John Connelly argued over a series of University issues at the Eagleton Institute for Politics on the Douglass campus.
The discussion topics included the merger between Rowan University and the University’s Camden campus, a decision Connelly said will hurt both RUSA’s Rutgers United and Old Raritan political parties.
“I feel like whether Rowan admits it to itself or not, this merger benefits nobody, not even them,” said Connelly, representing the incumbent Rutgers United Party. “At worst, what happens is we create a black hole in South Jersey that further exacerbates the problem.”
To avoid the merger, Connelly suggested adopting a model that allows students from the University and Rowan to take classes at both campuses.
“Hypothetically, students who attend Rowan University that want to take a class at Rutgers-Camden can choose to do so,” said Connelly, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “I feel like that does a lot to democratize education.”
Siegel, also a School of Arts and Sciences junior, agreed with Connelly and said the proposed merger can only be seen as a mistake for the University.
“It does not make sense giving away Camden,” said Siegel, representing the competing Old Raritan Party.
Issues surrounding on-campus problems, like tuition, were at the forefront of the discussion.
In regards to tuition hikes, Siegel said it would be important to make the University’s budget transparent.
“I would ask the administration, is the budget you’re proposing the most cost-effective and providing the highest quality education at the most affordable price?” he said.
The University’s cash flow mainly comes from three important sources — tuition, state aid and alumni, Siegel said. The key to driving down tuition costs, he said, would be to analyze the way the University manages those three sources.
Connelly stressed the need to manage state aid to the University and said the administration needs to take responsibility for the students.
“The cost of a Rutgers education has skyrocketed since the 1990s,” he said. “At the same time, state aid for Rutgers students has decreased. … We could have taken the private route, [but] we chose to become a public institution and … we need to act like one.”
As debate moderator, RUSA President Matt Cordeiro questioned both candidates on the issue of on-campus political demonstrations, a topic both debaters said is critical to the fabric of the University.
“The academy has always served as the test lab for ideas,” Connelly said. “I feel like part of that has to be being exposed to ideas you don’t like, ideas that disturb you morally and ideas that you find downright vulgar.”
Although Siegel also agreed that demonstrations are important for the growth of new ideas, he said it should not interfere with the standard education process.
“I don’t think that someone’s speech should violate my right to education, my right to be sitting in a class and to take the full experience of that class,” Siegel said.
The debaters were also asked to consider the issue of University subsidies to the athletic program.
Siegel said the subsidies, which make up 3 percent of the University’s $1.8 billion budget, are negatively affecting students in the long run.
“I cannot support a subsidy to the athletic program if it comes at the negation from education and from providing University services,” he said.
Connelly agreed and said the University’s first duty as an institution was to provide higher education for the students, not entertainment through sports.
After finishing the round of questions, Connelly said the event was helpful in expressing where the two candidates stood on some of the issues that a RUSA president is expected to handle.
“I don’t view this evening as a debate,” Siegel said. “I view it, hopefully, as a dialogue between John, myself and the parties.”
Siegel said RUSA has endless potential to grow, regardless of which candidate wins the election.
“If RUSA is an infant, it is an infant that has already shown itself capable of doing remarkable things,” he said.
Elections for RUSA begin Monday, April 9 and will continue until Wednesday, April 11.