Poor turnout at student debate last year shouldn’t be repeated

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It was a warm day in April 2006 when three sets of student body presidential and vice-presidential candidates debated in the student government elections. But what wasn’t warm was the turnout of people interested in the debates — a total of 37 people were in attendance, including the 6 candidates.

The lack of student turnout needs no verbal explanation, the figures explain it all: On a campus of approximately 10,000 students, only .37 percent of students cared enough to attend the debates. This year’s debate needs an adequate amount of audience turnout. The candidates will debate at 5 p.m. on April 23 in McConomy Auditorium. Debating in an empty auditorium would be a travesty, and a complete debacle for Carnegie Mellon’s student government.

I often hear students complain that student government doesn’t actually do anything, but if impotent debate turnout was explained away in the past with the excuse that student government doesn’t do anything, then students should be eating their words now. We have clearly seen that student government has an impact on campus life. For the first time in Carnegie Mellon’s history, guys and girls can room together under the new co-ed housing option. Furthermore, the fleet of communal bikes made a forceful entrance on campus as all the bikes were used within a day of their arrival amongst speculation that all of the bikes would be stolen after a week.

While it is probable that most of those bikes will never turn up on campus again, we can be sure that another student government election will take place on campus this year, and with every year to come.

Though the president and vice-president failed in adequately planning the campus bike program, at least the two executives actually accomplished something.

We’ve seen what type of impact a go-getting president and vice-president can have on this campus. But why should next year’s president and vice-president try to accomplish anything, if the student body appears to not care at all? Students need to attend the debate, and they need to make their voices heard.

As moderator of the upcoming debate, I have the unique opportunity to decide the format of the debate. Last year’s moderator had the candidates build a piece of public art using marshmallows and gummy bears. While comical to see what the candidates created, it didn’t serve any specific purpose. This debate will not be a waste of the audience’s time or effort. I plan to allot a portion of time for an open forum, so that the audience can let the candidates know what is most important to their respective campaigns.

The debate is especially important this year, because it will also include the candidates for student body vice-president of finance (VPF).

For those who don’t know what the VPF does, it’s simple: He or she manages the money that student government controls. The VPF’s duties range from advising the student body president on financial decisions to freezing the budget of any student organization or activity that receives money from student government when appropriate.

If you elect an ineffective president then you might end up with a fleet of stolen bikes, but if you elect an ineffective VPF, then student government’s money situation could go terribly awry. An ineffective VPF could mean the squandering of the money of everyone who pays the student activities fee.

It is crucial for students to learn the issues that each candidate hopes to address. Students need to get active with the election and vote. The upcoming debate is the perfect venue for students to find out how each candidate plans to make an impact on the campus community. Students might agree or disagree with the candidates, but it is ultimately the students’ votes that decide.