USG election forum hears positions, not debate

Undergraduate Student Government presidential candidate Daniel Byrd speaks during a USG election forum in the UConn Student Union in Storrs, Connecticut on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2016. (Allen Lang/The Daily Campus)

Candidates up for Undergraduate Student Government election on the spring ballot presented their positions to a crowd of 40 onlookers at the Student Union Thursday night. 

Despite being billed as a “debate,” the event’s forum-style provided little examination of the answers the candidates gave and no discussion of the issues between tickets.

Taking center stage at the event was the presidential race between McMahon Sen. Stephanie Sponzo, student services committee chairwoman Eliza Conrad and external affairs committee chairman Daniel Byrd. Each candidate, and their running mates, provided statements of their positions and fielded questions from moderators.

Though the format allowed candidates adequate time to explain what their goals are, moderators did not ask probing questions on how candidates would achieve them. 

“I have one year of experience. While a person can grow in that time, it is not the same as five years in Senate,” Sponzo said. “I can learn how to run an exec. meeting. I am excited to learn. I don’t see that as an obstacle in the way.”

While the benefits of having a possible two-term president was brought up – as Sponzo is a sophomore – no moderators questioned how she would overcome her inexperience now. 

Sponzo also espoused her commitment to women’s issues on campus, especially rebranding Celeron Path, commonly referred to as the “rape trail.” She said her efforts have resulted in the cleaning up the infamous path with volunteer efforts outside of USG, but she failed to answer her own question, “How can I, as a woman, help other women on campus?”

Sponzo and Byrd disagreed on the issue of emergency legislative funding. Both senators have a history of voting on opposite sides of groups seeking funding through an act of the Senate for improperly filled-out requests.

“I have voted to make sure that all groups that have come to Senate for funding have been treated equally,” Byrd said. “We want to create a funding system that groups don’t need to come to Senate. We want to create a system that works for students.”

Undergraduate Student Government presidential candidate Stephanie Sponzo speaks during a USG senate meeting in the UConn Student Union in Storrs, Connecticut. (Allen Lang/The Daily Campus)

One of the main parts of Byrd’s platform is advocating for open-source textbooks at UConn. He has written legislation that encouraged the university to bring in the vastly lower-cost textbooks and to fund an open-source textbook written by a chemistry professor. The more than $20,000 expenditure could save students $800,000 in the next ten years, Byrd said. 

When asked which accomplishment of current USG president Rachel Conboy’s accomplishments he would like to build upon, Byrd said he would like to create a more inclusive environment where student voices could be heard.

This position is one of the main platforms of Conrad’s campaign and is solidified by her appointment of student services vice-chair Joy Sgobbo as her running mate. Sgobbo is the only candidate that has not served as a senator.

“We want to continue to make sure that student voices are heard and empowering committee members to be heard,” Conrad said.

One of the only investigative questions of the night was aimed at Conrad’s decisions as chairwoman of the nomination committee responsible for unconstitutionally appointing two justices to one seat.

“There were not enough of us in the committee to make the decisions that would affect the entire student body,” Conrad said. “We put the decision in the hands of the Senate because they were voted in by the entire student body.”

Conrad said, if elected, she would confer with the judiciary to ensure that the Constitution is followed correctly.

Student trustee

Candidates for the student seat on the Board of Trustees also presented their case to the audience Thursday.

USG vice president Adam Kuegler said he would make the board “feel the heat with a student voice” if he is elected.

Kuegler said students should be informed on the process of how money is being spent by the board and his experience as external affairs chair has prepared him to fight against unfair budgets. 

“Students deserve to know how money is being spent and they deserve to know the process for how it’s being spent that way,” Kuegler said, citing the recent Freedom of Information violation by the board. 

Kuegler said he would push for an informal advisory group of students for the trustees.

“We need to make sure that our university is being governed in an accountable way, in a transparent way, in an efficient way,” Kuegler said. 

Freddy Santiago, senator in the Associate Student Government of the Hartford campus, said he began his campaign because the regional campuses are underrepresented in Storrs. 

Undergraduate Student Government election candidates Eliza Conrad speaks during a USG election forum in the UConn Student Union in Storrs, Connecticut. (Courtesy Charlie Smart/WHUS)

“No matter what happens, I’m never going to stop fighting for the regionals,” Santiago said. 

Santiago said he plans to use his connections to the administration at each campus to advance issues facing students at every campus in the state.

Christine Savino, fourth-semester economics major, is the only candidate for the Board of Trustees who is not a member of a student government. She plans to use her experience in philanthropic organizations to advocate for students to the board.

“It’s important to me to help others who can’t help themselves,” Savino said. 

Savino said she would also advocate for more transparency on board policies and practices and make sure the student voice is heard.

Savion said she would work extensively with administrators, especially President Susan Herbst, to work to prevent tuition increases for students.

“It’s not gonna be an easy battle,” Savino said. “You can definitely expect the Board of Trustees to have some sort of resistance to a lot of these positions.”

Comptroller

Rishita Jani, USG director of programs and former funding board chairwoman, said she would leverage her experience in financial and organizational roles in USG to improve the organizations fiscal policies if elected comptroller.

“Daily interactions with students helped me see their needs more clearly and help them,” Jani said.

Jani said her work in two different learned positions has helped her form strong relationships with advisors and administrators in the business office. By working on a committee not involved with funding this semester, she said she has gained valuable experience on the internal structure of USG.

She said she will bring more transparency to the funding process and make sure that the fees students pay to USG are given back to them through funding of clubs and organizations. 

Sarthak Shah, sixth-semester finance major, was not present at the forum and a proxy delivered his campaign speech. 

Shah’s letter to the assembly said that his strong foundation in mathematics and management make him a good fit to fulfill the responsibilities of comptroller, if elected. 

Shah wrote that he would compare USG budget allocations and rejections to find discrepancies and connect with students in a timely manner.

The major portion of Shah’s campaign platform is to work on raising the amount of funds allocated to student groups to fund more activities.


Nicholas Shigo is associate news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at nicholas.shigo@uconn.edu.