During a televised debate last night, SGA presidential and vice-presidential candidates tackled issues ranging from campus involvement to whether the SGA actually benefits the student body.
SGA’s performance was called into question on several instances during the hour-long debate. When asked to rate the current SGA performance, the presidential candidates’ opinions varied.
Jon Papaik, from Vols Unite, and John Rader, from Action, rated the current administration’s accomplishments higher than Brian May, from Students for a Just University.
May criticized SGA for not following through with its promises. He said a lot of what is promised never gets done.
“We need to take action,” he said.
Papaik consented that SGA is not perfect, but also noted that the governing body only possesses a certain amount of power.
“We need to realize SGA has limitations,” he said.
Rader said the current administration had done a good job, but said he wouldn’t be running for president if he believed it were perfect.
The presidential candidates were also questioned about issues affecting students every day.
On campus safety, all three candidates expressed concerns and offered alternatives to promote a safer environment for students.
Papaik proposed an increase in students’ knowledge about available transportation facilities. He said many students are not aware of the escort service the UTPD provides. If more students become aware about them, campus safety would increase, he said.
Rader said that his experience as a fraternity president has allowed him to have a close relationship with the UTPD police chief, which allows him to work closely with the department.
May defined the issue of campus safety as “problematic.” He cited a first-hand experience with an attempted robbery. He said he was lucky because he is “quick like a rabbit.” His swiftness allowed him to get away without harm.
Presidential candidates also answered questions about retention rates for the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship.
“It is a travesty for 75 percent of students to lose the HOPE scholarship,” Rader said, speaking of the statistic indicating that three-fourths of students statewide graduating in 2007-08 who hold the HOPE scholarship will not retain it up to graduation.
To fix this problem, Rader proposes a closer relationship with legislators in Nashville. He has already been to the capital and has spoken with the Senate Education Committee Chair Jamie Woodson about the HOPE issue and possible solutions. A solution he proposed during the debate was to improve the quality of freshman advising.
May agreed with Rader that freshman advising needs to be improved and said increasing advisers’ pay could ensure better advising.
To increase HOPE scholarship retention rates, Papaik proposed better education about the scholarship’s requirements for incoming freshmen.
“Once you are a freshman, it’s hard to adapt,” he said.
The initial shock of college causes a lot of scholarship losses, he said.
The vice-presidential candidates also sparred off against each other during the second half of the debate.
When confronted with the problem of tuition increases, the vice-presidential candidates had differing views.
Katie Williams, of Students for a Just University, opposed tuition increases. She said she would fight against raises as much as possible.
“Tuition has been going up for years, and it is SGA’s job to deal with this issue,” she said.
Anna York, of Action, also said she would try to keep tuition costs the same. She added that tuition increases are almost inevitable and that the issue is bigger than the SGA. However, she promised to minimize increases as much as possible.
Keaton Williams, of Vols Unite, said the best way to combat tuition increases is to communicate with the administration. If elected, she would work as a liaison between the administration and the students. While she said the SGA cannot directly contribute to tuition decision-making, she would lobby the administrators to maintain lower rates of increase.
The debate, which was co-sponsored by The Daily Beacon and The Volunteer Channel, will re-air on TVC on Wednesday, Friday and Monday at 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., and Thursday at 3:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
SGA elections will be held March 27 and 28.