By: Philippe Buteau / BBC Managing Editor
Though their futures within the Student Government Association are already known, candidates for the Student Government Council at Biscayne Bay Campus took part in a forum so students can question their future representatives.
The candidate forum took place in Panther Square in the Wolfe University Center at BBC on April 4. During the forum, students, some current and former members of student organizations asked questions on issues such as funding, unfulfilled promises, a possible single-council student government, retention and outreach.
The panel of candidates included presidential and vice presidential candidates Denise Halpin and Emilio Collyer, respectively; Arts & Sciences senatorial candidates Farah Yamini and Daniel Usma; and current at-large senator and Honors College candidate Pablo Haspel. Xin Zheng and Yiran Song, candidates for the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management’s seats, were not on the panel during the forum.
Michael Aquino, freshman business administration major and secretary for BBC’s Student Organizations Council, asked the panel what their plans are for funding clubs.
Halpin said clubs would receive the same amount they received last year. She said clubs would not see an increase in their funding but also not receive a cut from last year.
Halpin, as SGC-BBC’s vice president, is a member of the University-Wide Council, which hears, deliberates, and votes on funding proposals from various student organizations and centers at the University, with final approval from Vice President of Student Affairs, Rosa Jones.
The focus for funding for next year is infrastructure, Halpin said, and used the WUC as an example.
“Look around you, this place is really gray,” Halpin said. “This isn’t a place that screams out ‘FIU’ or screams out ‘blue and gold.’
So we’re trying to get new paint in here, we’re trying to get new furniture, we’re trying to do that stuff for you guys so clubs like SOC can feel proud to be in this place.”
She added clubs could also make funding requests to the SGC-BBC senate.
Yamini, a junior philosophy major, said feedback from students is critical in regards to funding.
“If what we’re using that money for isn’t making you guys happy, it’s not our fault because we’re not getting feedback,” Yamini said.
Deyan Ivanov, an international relations graduate student and former senator at-large, knows of the promises the current council made. He also knows which promises were fulfilled and which ones weren’t.
“Some promises were not fulfilled due to time constraints and whatnot,” Ivanov said. “Do you plan on actually finishing the job?” Ivanov asked directly to candidates who ran for positions last year.
Halpin, being the only person who ran for a position last year, answered saying members of student government are students first.
“We’re students, then we work for student government … and then we have whatever else we’re working on, so it’s important for us to keep in mind to have realistic goals.”
Halpin believes this year’s SGC-BBC has done a “really great job in completing the things we have scheduled.” However, she admitted there were things not done because of how busy the council was in March.
Because Halpin is “big on honesty” it’s important for her that promises made are kept.
She mentioned taking credit for unplanned accomplishments, such as her athletics campaign, and cited different reasons for the goals she couldn’t meet.
“… It was feasibility, a money issue, or the administration didn’t want it,” Halpin said.
Ivanov, one of the most vocal of the few students in attendance during the forum, did not stop at unfulfilled promises.
He asked the panel what their opinion is on a single-council student government, a topic about which The Beacon has written numerous editorials and supports.
“What is the purpose of having two separate student governments? What do you think of having one president and two vice presidents?” Ivanov asked.
The entire panel was in favor of two student government councils.
“My personal opinion is, with the direction this university is going, we need two student governments,” Halpin answered. “If not, our campus gets overlooked.”
She said the president and vice president at MMC are focused on their constituents and the ones at BBC are focused on theirs.
She said there could one day be a single-council SGA, but that day wouldn’t come until the University reaches President Rosenberg’s vision of “FIU in 2020.”
“Until we get there, to a realistic goal, we cannot be one student government,” Halpin said.
She also said the two idea of two vice presidents would not work.
“I firmly believe if there were two vice presidents, [the BBC one] would be overlooked,” Halpin said.
Collyer, Halpin’s running mate, cited the Pines Center as another reason why the single-council system would not work.
“We don’t only represent [BBC], we also represent the Pines Center,” Collyer said. “And we have that problem, we forget the Pines Center. Imagine how we would feel and how the Pines Center would feel if all the decisions came from MMC.”
Collyer likened the University’s student government with that of Miami-Dade College’s, which has an SGA for each one of its main campuses.
The panel also addressed the issue of outreach to students in order to get them to join SGC-BBC and retention, to keep those students on the council.
For the majority of this academic year SGC-BBC has not been a full council, having no more than 10 senators each semester and also suffering from resignations and expulsions due to GPA requirements during each semester.
Halpin’s way of retaining senators is to make sure they focus on their academics before SGA. This goes hand-in-hand with Haspel’s mentoring system mentioned during the forum. The aim of his system is for SGA members to help each other out on homework and sharing their SGA workload.
During the forum, Halpin pointed to her mother who was in the audience to support her daughter. Halpin said her mother asked how to get to the WUC and was told she was on the wrong campus.
Because of students’ lack of knowledge of BBC, knowing where the WUC is located is a major part of Halpin’s plan for outreach and increasing commuter student involvement.
Usma said filling the seats for School of Journalism and Mass Communication is his main goal in terms of outreach. He plans to do this by going to classes and directly addressing SJMC majors.
He added programs, which are at a “high standard”, as another way to get students involved, a statement with which Yamini agreed.
“Quality programs make people want to be a part of [that organization],” Yamini said.