If there’s one thing the Student Government presidential and vice presidential debates have shown us, it’s how not to conduct a debate-especially when the stakes are so high for anyone seeking to improve the university. The format needs to be re-vamped, for the benefit of both the candidates and the students, who ultimately benefit from these debates.
The most striking feature of the debates was that we did not learn anything new. Most everything that was said in the debates-the presidential debate in particular-has been said many times before, be it in campaign literature, pitches and interviews. Considering the pervasiveness of all three campaigns, their huge Facebook groups and coverage by campus media, it is safe to say students too busy or too lazy to attend the debates did not miss out on anything.
It should come as no surprise, though, considering everything that could have been planned wrong, was. The presidential debate, for instance, took place on a Thursday night, when students were either in class, at the Grove, preparing to go to the Grove or simply resting up for the weekend. The last thing on these students’ minds was the debate, and as a result, only about 50 students attended the presidential debate (and that’s including the Elections Commission), compared with 60 students for Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate.
The students who opted to attend, instead of going home, could not directly engage the candidates, nor could the candidates engage each other. Questions could not be directed to a particular candidate or platform, and as such, were incredibly bland and general. Among the hard-hitting questions that came out of the audience were inquiries about the strengths of their platforms, tickets and even their opponents. To his credit, Unity vice presidential candidate Dan Kalvig was able to slip in a few subtle jabs at his opponents.
“One Goal” presidential candidate Danny Carvajal suggested to The Hurricane moving the debate back to Wednesday, so students would be more likely to attend the debate. He also suggested changing the format to a stand-up, podium format. With such a format, the audience and candidates would be able to challenge their opponents and their platforms in a civil manner.
Carvajal has also suggested moving the debate from the University Center lower lounge to the Storer auditorium. The Hurricane believes the debates should continue to take place in the University Center lower lounge. This is a more central location, and it could draw in more students who might happen to be passing by.
And at the very least, the vice-presidential debate this year was better than last year’s. The 2006 vice presidential debate was essentially an opportunity for the “Putting You First” and “Make Life Easier” campaigns to advertise their resumes and (strikingly similar) platforms. Both of this year’s debates were not that different.
In all, no one has to bleed on the stand, but more pointed, direct questions would greatly improve the discourse and truly allow the audience to see what the candidates are made of, hopefully attracting more students. With greater attendance, particularly among unaffiliated and undecided students, the discussion of campus politics will only improve. The ultimate goal here is to educate the student body, so why not take a few steps towards change?
Besides, who doesn’t like a good debate?