During the 2019 Wheel Debates on March 7, candidates running for top student government positions discussed their election platforms and answered questions from the Wheel and students via Twitter. Student Government Association (SGA), College Council (CC) and BBA Council presidential and vice presidential candidates addressed their prior experience, debated raising the Student Activities Fee (SAF) and SGA’s recent over allocation of $28,000.
SGA presidential candidates Zion Kidd (21B), Ben Palmer (18Ox, 20C) and Steele Quinard (18Ox, 20B) discussed student government finances and the impeachment of former SGA President Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C).
Kidd, who currently serves as an SGA sophomore legislator and the only candidate who was present at the hearing, said he felt the entire impeachment procedure of former SGA President Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C) was “rushed” and that neither side developed a strong argument during the impeachment hearing.
“Our constitution says that to impeach someone there has to be a gross offense,” Kidd said. “I felt that the evidence that was presented was very slight. I felt that there were many slight paper cuts along the way through Dwight’s tenure as president and because of those he continually rubbed members of the executive board the wrong way.”
Palmer, who served as Ma’s chief of staff before Ma fired him in October 2018, said SGA did “an excellent job” adhering to its governing documents. He added that the Constitutional Council’s ruling on Ma’s executive power was influential in the outcome of the hearing.
“Ask the Constitutional Council, who made a very clear argument of how [Ma] abused his power, and draw your own conclusions from that,” Palmer said. “It’s up to the legislature to make the vote, and they did, and we should live with that.”
Quinard said he couldn’t speak directly about Ma’s impeachment hearing because he was not present at the meeting, but said the constitution should be clearer about impeachment procedures.
All three candidates offered diverging perspectives on whether the SAF should be raised.
“It’s very dangerous for low-income students,” Kidd said. “We would need to work with the financial aid office to make sure that financial aid is going to cover that, and, if not, we need to see what workarounds we do have.”
Quinard explained that although he “completely agree[s] with Zion,” a higher SAF is still necessary to effectively fund SGA.
“When me and [Palmer] were working on Oxford SGA, the amount of money we had was a consistent problem,” Quinard said.
Palmer said SGA should communicate more with the student body before making a decision to increase the SAF. He added that if SGA is going to increase the SAF they need to do more research and ensure SGA has “the infrastructure in place to find that data,” such as if increasing the SAF would actually have more positive consequences for the student body than negative ones.
Regarding SGA’s $28,000 deficit, a result of an over-allocation of funds, Kidd passed blame to the previous SGA for miscalculating revenue projections. He said SGA should re-examine how revenues are forecasted. SGA currently uses a projection model that estimates student enrollment for the upcoming calendar year to calculate revenue.
“The projection model is one of the only ways we can understand and make a budget,” Kidd said. “What we really have to do is work with the Admissions Office to improve that model.”
Palmer said that SGA’s handling of the situation was “botched” and that if a similar situation arises during his presidency, he would try to make the decision that would have the smallest impact on the student body.
Executive Vice President
SGA Speaker of the Legislature and Sophomore Representative Lori Steffel (21B) is running unopposed for SGA vice president on a joint ticket with Palmer. Her platform is based on using her experience from serving on committees and working on initiatives to improve SGA’s bylaws .
“I’ve spent the last year dedicated to improving and restructuring SGA,” Steffel said.
Steffel said she has led reforms to the governing documents committee and expanded the Tampon Initiative, which would provide tampons and pads in bathrooms across campus.
As speaker of the legislature, Steffel also organized and led Ma’s closed-door impeachment hearing. When asked about the transparency of the private hearing, Steffel said SGA didn’t break any formal rules.
“The governing documents were followed to a tee in the conducting of that impeachment hearing,” Steffel said. “Moving forward … if [a higher] level of transparency is something that we as a student body collectively want, that is absolutely a change that we can make.”
Steffel spoke about the importance of maintaining a high-quality SGA website and suggested creating a new position that is responsible for its maintenance.
CC co-Chief of Staff Jacob Hicks (18Ox, 20C) and CC Vice President of Budget Hithardhi Duggireddy (20C) are running unopposed for CC president and vice president, respectively.
Hicks said that if elected president, he intends to make CC more transparent, representative and professional.
When the Wheel decided to send a reporter to weekly meetings this year, CC began closing its doors for budget discussions. Hicks previously told the Wheel that these closed-door sessions were allowed and necessary to protect clubs, but he changed his position at the debates, saying that they are not necessary.
“Going forward I plan to end executive sessions,” Hicks said. “I think we were acting in good faith. We were looking to protect the student body’s money, but I think … it gave the appearance of impropriety when there really wasn’t any.”
Hicks said that student clubs should have more say in CC’s activities, adding that he plans to establish a system that allows clubs with similar interests to better collaborate on co-sponsored events. He also noted the importance of having representation from freshman and sophomore students who plan to leave the College and enter the Business or Nursing Schools.
Hicks said he disagrees with current efforts to increase the SAF but could see himself supporting a raise in the future if student government become more transparent with the student body about how they handle finances.
Duggireddy said he assumed his position as CC vice president of budget hoping to understand the fiscal state of the governing body but soon realized that problems facing student clubs are not all financial.
“Initially I was going in to learn about fiscal matters … but instead I took a different approach [to helping clubs],” Duggireddy said. “I think I’ve met about 60 to 70 percent of all the clubs we charter … and I realized a lot of issues go beyond just financial matters.”
Duggireddy is advocating for more attendance data collection for student club events, which he says could have reduced conflict between governing bodies asking for SAF funding because more precise data could more provide more accurate determine the how the SAF is distributed. He has since proposed a bill in CC called the “Event Report Form” which would allow club members to sign into events on their phones.
BBA Council Junior Representative Catherine Xu (18Ox, 20B) and Trong Bui (20B) will compete for BBA Council President, the only other contested race in undergraduate student government. Bui did not attend the debates due to a spring break travel conflict.
When asked about BBA Council’s lack of written monetary policy, Xu said she agrees that BBA Council needs to establish one. She noted that student governments should attempt to look more closely at how funds are distributed before tackling larger issues, like the SAF split.
Xu said her prior experience listening to and collaborating with other representatives on BBA Council will help her achieve a more inclusive community if elected president.
Xu said she hopes to increase student engagement in BBA Council by focusing on recruiting younger students in the BBA program.
“[Increasing interest in BBA Council] really lies in engaging with students before they’re admitted to the Business School,” Xu said.
She pointed to her initiative to hold networking events between sophomores interested in the Business School and seniors in Goizueta as a way to help engage students early in their time in the BBA program.