USG Presidential candidates debate funding and leadership

USG Presidential candidate Irma Valdez debates Vice Presidential candidate Ven Gopal during USG's pre-election debate on Thursday Feb. 23, 2017 in the Student Union. Gopal was filling in for his running mate Andrew Stern who was away due to personal issues. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Candidates vying to lead the University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government shared competing visions at USG’s annual debates.

The presidential debate took the form of two extended addresses, without follow-up questions. The candidates, current USG Vice President Irma Valverde and current Chief Justice Andrew Stern, agreed on several core traditional issues, especially advocating for open source textbooks and appealing to state leaders to oppose further cuts.

Stern was attending a funeral in his hometown and so was unable to make the debate. Stern’s running mate, USG Academic Affairs Chair Venkatram Gopal, read a speech the presidential candidate had written.

Valverde said that her current position made her most knowledgeable about existing initiatives and would allow for the smoothest transition. Stern said his ticket brought a wide range of experience with representation from the legislative, executive and judicial branches of USG.

Valverde said she would prioritize funding student organizations and making USG transparent in addition to the initiatives she has already worked on closely with current President Dan Byrd, open education resources, state funding and providing protection for undocumented students.

“Because of the current political climate, I am not afraid to say that I stand with undocumented students,” Valverde said. “I will continue to meet with them, with USG, UCPD Chief (Hans) Rhynhart, (Associate Vice Provost) Eleanor Daughtery, (Vice President) Michael Gilbert, everybody in that group, we meet every single month.”

Valverde also criticized current parking policies

Stern’s platform prioritized improving relations with Mansfield, open education resources (for which Gopal chairs USG’s taskforce) and improving campus safety by requiring sexual assault training for fraternities and adding lighting to certain areas. He also proposed expanding student representation on the groups that handle parking appeals and disciplinary actions against students.

“As of now, a handful of preselected administrators are responsible for determining the life-changing consequences of students, however, this could be improved by the inclusion of a student perspective,” Gopal said, reading Stern’s remarks. “It makes sense to include our voice on Community Standards as well.”

In the vice presidential debate, Gopal met with Valverde’s running mate Lysette Johnson, current chair of USG’s funding board. The vice president is primarily responsible for internal operation of USG itself.

USG has recently had difficulty retaining members and filling all of its senate seats, even as more positions are added, Gopal said. Lysette agreed, but the two differed in approaching the problem.

Johnson looked internally, proposing a support system to help support and encourage new members and their projects.

Gopal’s focus was outward; he said he and Stern have been meeting with clubs and cultural centers across campus to expand outreach and recruit new members by encouraging interest.

“An organization has to be spearheaded by people that give it purpose,” Gopal said.

Gopal, now in his third year at USG, also questioned Johnson’s experience as a first-year member of the organization.

“Experience can’t be measured in years; it’s in time,” Johnson responded. “There are days when I’ve been in the office from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to make sure every student organization is taken care of. Sometimes for 35 hours a week. (Being funding chair) is like a full-time job on top of keeping up my grades.”

As each of the debates ended, the candidates shook hands, or in Gopal and Valverde’s case, hugged.

USG President and Vice President are one of several positions on the ballot in joint elections on March 1 and 2.


Christopher McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.mcdermott@uconn.edu.