Student gov candidates square off in debate

Student body presidential and vice presidential candidates for the upcoming Associated Students of Portland State University elections offered their viewpoints on student elections voting process, strengthening the student senate and working toward ending PSU’s contract with Higher One in a debate Tuesday.

While the candidates agreed on many of the issues, most of the debate concerned what was the best way to accomplish their goals.

Presidential candidate Erin Devaney and vice presidential candidate Molly Woon stressed activism and the empowerment of students to tackle these issues, while presidential candidate Amanda Barron and vice presidential candidate Lindsey Craven said they believed that working with the administration in a professional manner was the way to accomplish goals.

"We need a level of respect," Barron said, "We need a seat at the table. I know exactly what it takes to get students on these committees [that make decisions on campus]."

"We get students on these committees by standing outside with picket signs," Devaney responded. "We can be activists, we can be organizers, we can be professional."

The candidates were asked what they would have done had they been in office last November, when a rally against Higher One, the Connecticut-based company that took over PSU’s financial aid disbursements last year, resulted in 200 students storming President Bernstine’s office and demanding that Higher One’s contract with Portland State be broken.

"We would have stayed [in Bernstine’s office]," Devaney said, saying she believed the actions taken by students were effective, but that a sit-in may have accomplished more.

Both parties agreed that more action was needed, but Barron said the rally needed more planning, calling it "poorly organized and barely attended."

"You can’t have an impromptu sit-in," Barron said. She said she prefers legislative action to activism. "We need to make it illegal to have contracts [like Higher One]."

Debate about the Campus Recreation Center proposal, a hot issue since last year when plans to build the multimillion dollar facility passed by only 12 votes, led to debate about the elections process itself.

Devaney asserted that student government was to blame for low voter turnout, saying that they are not doing enough to inform and encourage students to vote. "It is the fault of the ASPSU that students aren’t voting," she said.

Barron, an advocate for Instant Run-off Voting, a process by which the voter ranks candidates according to preference rather than choosing only one, blames the PSU voting system for low turnout, saying that the current system discourages other parties from running out of fear that they will only take away votes from similar candidates, thereby leaving students with fewer candidates to choose from.

"The process of student elections is inherently flawed," Barron said.

Other issues included strengthening the student senate, which both parties said has not been sufficiently effective in the past.

"I have great, great plans for the senate," Woon said, stating that by instituting an "attitudinal change" focused on encouraging senate members to recognize their power will revamp and make it more effective. "Every senator is a leader," she said.

"Institutionalized changes take time," Craven said, citing her two years in the senate and saying that an experienced senate leader would be more effective in making changes.

Barron and Craven intend to fight tuition increases, lowering textbook prices and making Tri-Met passes cheaper for students.

"We know how to get things done," Craven said.

Devaney and Woon want to lengthen library hours and food services, make ecological improvements to campus and improve student government’s advocacy for student groups.

"We are going to empower people," Woon said. "I am ready to shake things up."