Why Debate?

The freshman Senate debate: it’s supposed to give each senator a chance to state their platforms and their aspirations as a senator. However, most freshmen have little knowledge of any issues affecting the student body, so what does this debate accomplish? Well, let’s see what the current senators say about past debates.

One senator, Jesse Priest states, “we didn’t get any prior knowledge and asked very serious questions and I think it was great to see them on their toes and come up with a response.” Members of the SGA should be informed on any issue. Promoting that among current freshman only leads the SGA to stagnation which leads to poor decisions. Promote knowledge among freshman – especially among those who you want to “lead” the school. Senators, even in meetings, should come to the “debates” during the meeting with knowledge about the topic at hand. No freshman has enough background and capability to answer whether new RSO’s should be able to have a larger budget than $1,000 per semester. With questions like that, which are deep in nitty-gritty SGA policy, it’s hard to agree with SGA Vice President Cat Oesterle’s statement that the debate is “not crazy intense.” It isn’t just generic questions like “what are some qualities of a good leader” – which frankly you learn nothing about the candidates from; they all tend to agree.

Sure, some senators are in support of changing the debate, but those are few and far in between. Melanie Caba brings up the idea of instead having a speech instead of a debate. For a speech, the candidates could research issues so that they could develop informed opinions and responses about campus life. However, very few senators came out in support of her ideas, thus leaving the flawed, ill-informed debate in practice.

So that’s enough about the debate in the past, how did it go this year? 21 candidates vying for 9 spots on pretty much the same platform? Certainly, it went well – just like it did last year. Candidates outnumbered interested freshmen in the audience at the debate. This year’s debate was moderated by Olivia Schreiber, the chair of the Stevens Honor Board. Olivia asked questions of the candidates that were developed by SGA senators, with a small section for audience questions at the end. The SGA asked general questions about how to improve Stevens, but most students lacked the experience and knowledge required to effectively communicate and give “acceptable” answers. For example, one question asked candidates how entrepreneurship and innovation could be improved at Stevens. Multiple candidates suggested adding a class, which already exists (MGT103). Another question asked candidates about how to improve Stevens. One candidate stated empty classrooms should be opened for study spaces, which fails to take into account how most classrooms are booked at almost any and every time. Multiple candidates suggested an academic break, which already exists. It’s clear that the SGA debate highlights the inexperience of freshman candidates, and thus, the SGA as a whole. These are the people that will become SGA senators and will guide the student body as a whole. However, the question that was the highlight was essentially asking how you think the SGA is performing. Almost everyone stated, “the SGA is doing great”. This only brings into attention that they haven’t seen the SGA perform yet to have an idea of what a “great SGA” is. This answer, coming from someone who has little experience with the SGA, only builds into the ever-present image that the SGA cannot effectively communicate with the student body,

The main focus of having the freshman candidates debate in the first place is useless. The SGA expects freshman senators to be able to work on issues throughout the school and be among the most knowledgeable people on the campus. However, they throw them into the role without regard to their lack of experience, and limited time on campus. You could say, they’re still getting used to Freshman year, let alone Stevens. Freshmen have been here for a month; they lack experience. Senators are supposed to enact change and represent the student body effectively from their first meeting, and not have to learn on the job. These candidates debating will effectively become members of the SGA within the next week, and it is clear that they are not ready. They have not yet been educated on what is required of an SGA senator. This debate only highlights that they have not been given proper guidance by the current SGA.

Fundamentally, the only expectation that we can derive from this debate is that the freshmen who win are the most popular on campus; there is little to do with a candidate’s views and ability to function as an SGA senator. Don’t waste the student body’s time by having a debate that highlights things we already know. The SGA, by having a freshman senatorial debate, demonstrates that it still hasn’t figured out how to have an active line of communication with their own constituents. This is shown to be the case because only 17 freshmen who weren’t running for the position showed up.

And the one redeeming factor for the SGA about this whole situation? No one even goes to the freshman debate – but is that unlike anything else that the SGA does? That is unless you’re directly involved, chances are you, like most Stevens students, find the SGA irrelevant and will pay no attention to it. The SGA carries a major financial and time-consuming burden by working to make campus life active. It is unfortunate, but they are still unable to communicate that to the Stevens campus.

About the Author

Mark Krupinski
Sophomore Computational Science Business Manager