Building up to the 2013-14 Student Government Association (SGA) elections, Student Body President candidates Brady Nails and Brian Sullivan met in the Cone University Center to address campus issues in the Student Niner Media debate last Monday, March 25.
Nails is a History major, graduating in May 2014, who plans to attend law school after graduation. Before Monday’s debate, Nails and his running mate James Shaw have previously expressed interest in helping SGA regain focus on student life and academics.
Sullivan is a Finance and Math major, graduating in May 2015, who wants to maintain a full-time job while earning his Ph.D. in math. He and his running mate Hank Tigri want to bring parking prices down and change the way donor funds are used.
Absent from the debate was Finance major Spencer Boone and his vice presidential candidate Sebastian Feculak, who dropped out of the race the morning of the debate for “personal reasons.”
The debate, which was moderated by Niner Times News Editor Eden Creamer, permitted each presidential candidate to answer five predetermined questions regarding important issues on campus, ranging from tuition fees to on-campus violence.
In front of an audience of roughly 20 students, the opposing candidate was then afforded the opportunity to rebute the competitor within a one-minute time slot.
Here is what each candidate had to say about the issues:
Changes to the way tuition fees are allocated
Leading up this year’s SGA election, Nails’ campaign started the Twitter hashtag #fixitbrady, which Nails uses to help identify commonly reported problems on campus. Through this, he found that students’ primary issue revolves around campus parking.
Nails explained that Parking and Transportation Services (PaTS) is self-sustained, meaning that parking decks and services are funded only by the money that is collected through fees. Nails would like to use the funds collected from parking citations to alleviate the price of parking permits.
Nails misspoke when he stressed the importance of changing the way funds collected from parking citations are allocated. While parking permits do fund the construction of new parking decks, it is a common myth that UNC Charlotte allocates fees that are collected from parking citations. Instead, that money is remitted to the State of North Carolina.
An outspoken libertarian, Sullivan compared UNC Charlotte to a business, where the students are the customers. He wants students to have more say in the way money is allocated on campus, but didn’t give specifics about his plan to alter monetary channels.
He later expressed concern for the way the Campus Activities Board (CAB) utilizes money. Sullivan told the story of how he recently went to a CAB event that appeared to be expensive with only four or five students in attendance.
Improvements to academic advising
An undeclared Math major, Sullivan compared declaring certain majors to solving a puzzle. Again, without giving specific details, he suggested that he has a desire to alter the structure in which faculty advise students. He plans to begin that project by “looking into” the problem more closely.
Nails called upon his experience as an orientation advisor where he was in charge of registering students. He doesn’t feel like advisors are the problem.
“I think that some of the departments on campus use teachers too much to advise. That’s an extra burden on the teachers and an unnecessary cost to the students,” he said.
Nails plans to require teachers to post their syllabi online for students to read before registering for classes. This is a similar concept utilized by Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, where they give students access to a “syllabus bank.” This way students have a clear idea of what will be required of the class before the first day.
Nails later described providing students with more information about classes before registration as their primary initiative.
Making parking and transportation easier on students
Sullivan described the parking dilemma as his and his running mate Hank Tigri’s “star issue.”
They plan to approach the problem with a business plan, by personally going to the private parking businesses in Charlotte and allowing them to expand their business on campus.
Sullivan also wants to utilize donor funds to alleviate student fees and UNC Charlotte debt.
Sullivan’s plan has been criticized by current Student Body President Conor Dugan for being unclear and unrealistic.
Additionally, donors will give money to specific financial needs on campus, not to UNC Charlotte as a whole. So Sullivan would have no control over where donor funds would be distributed.
Nails feels that UNC Charlotte is not receiving as much donor funds because of our poor alumni connection. He also says that encouraging alumni to donate to the university is the chancellor’s responsibility and that it is SGA’s responsibility to initiate conversations about where that money should be channeled.
Helping SGA better serve the student body
Sullivan feels that communication between SGA and the student body needs to be strengthened. He wants to set up a way to update students about SGA happenings. Here he compares SGA to a business that spams its users with special deals.
If Sullivan is elected student body president, he promises to make SGA as transparent as possible. He also promised to personally answer any email he receives within 24 hours.
Nails agreed that transparency is vital, but feels that few students care enough about SGA to look into staying updated.
“Transparency can only help if you’re looking. And the problem is that students don’t look at SGA. Though we are the second largest school in North Carolina in terms of undergrads, we don’t have people paying attention to SGA,” Nails said.
Nails and his running mate Shaw have continued to run on the platform focused on repairing the disconnect between SGA and student life, and continued to reiterate this idea throughout the debate. Nails vaguely said he wants to make SGA more vocal, but didn’t offer specifics aside from being “more vocal.”
Better establishing a sense of school spirit and community on campus
Sullivan strongly believes that the addition of the football team will help better establish school spirit on campus and that it should happen naturally. He doesn’t feel SGA should play a big role in the process.
“I don’t feel like you should have to force someone with social goals. I think that’s crazy. If people don’t want to be involved, let them not be involved,” Sullivan said, highlighting his libertarian approach to the SGA role.
As a former commuter student, Nails doesn’t feel like UNC Charlotte activities cater to students who do not live on campus. He feels that student organizations should make sure they are more accommodating of students who need to drive to campus to attend meetings and other activities.
“I think until we recognize that we have two very different kinds of students here, we cannot unite all of the students here,” he said.
Nails feels that the football program will help unite UNC Charlotte with the rest of the city as well as better connect UNC Charlotte with the alumni network. He also suggested that as the football program brings non-students to our campus, UNC Charlotte would be seen more as part of the city.
In response, Sullivan contradicted himself by questioning the way the football program was proposed.
“I think it’s a little crazy that we’re going to be forced to pay a fee for our enjoyment,” he said. Sullivan again claimed that UNC Charlotte should be dependent on donors. He explained that usually donors fund football programs at college.
His explanation for how football programs are usually funded is not entirely accurate. When the idea to establish a football program at UNC Charlotte was first proposed, SGA disclosed the potential hike in student fees and polled students to find out if students would approve of the increase in tuition for the program.
Additionally, colleges like University of Texas at San Antonio, which will join the Conference USA league later this year alongside Charlotte 49ers, have funded their football programs in a similar manner.
Dealing with on-campus construction
Nails told the story of a UNC Charlotte alumnus from the 1980s he had recently met who jokingly implied that “UNCC” stood for “under new construction constantly.” He described this growth as “a beautiful thing.”
“We have so many areas we can expand on,” Nails said. “That’s why we’re so privileged. We need these new projects around campus. These parking decks will make life easier.”
The history major went on to say that we should channel more money into renovating the gym. Nails described having one gym for 25,000 plus students as a “numerical impossibility.”
Sullivan suggested minor renovations to Denny and Colvard and that SGA should be more focused with building student life than buildings.
Lowering crime on campus, both violent and nonviolent
Sullivan explained that UNC Charlotte students are fortunate to attend a university that not only has a safe campus but is also surrounded by safe communities. He also claims that there are “very few crimes each year” at UNC Charlotte.
However, there were three larcenies reported on campus on the day of the debate alone.
Further highlighting his libertarian beliefs, Sullivan explained that he didn’t plan to endorse any policy that restricted the liberties that are meant to increase safety such as one that would limit alcohol consumption on campus.
“Life is a risk itself. So if you don’t like it, it’s just tough luck in that regard,” Sullivan said.
Nails cited Police Chief Jeffrey Baker, who often calls the most common crimes on campus “crimes of opportunity,” meaning that students can sometimes make themselves vulnerable to theft by not carefully keeping up with their belongings.
Nails’ solution: more surveillance in the form of more campus police officers, though he doesn’t feel it’s entirely necessary.
Current Student Body President Conor Dugan’s reaction to the debate
After hearing both candidates explain what they would like to do as SGA officials, I asked Dugan if he felt either candidate spoke within the realms of what a student body president was capable of accomplishing.
“Not necessarily, no. A good amount of [the candidates’ platforms] weren’t exactly feasible,” Dugan said.
Dugan recalled his debate a year prior with his opponent, Stephen Belle Isle, where they experienced a similar fallacy. Neither candidate understood in what arena they would be able to operate within.
“Hearing them have the same debate that Stephen and I had, we were probably saying similar things if not the exact same thing,” he said.
Dugan feels that even if the candidates goals may seem unrealistic, it’s important to hear what the candidates believe is best for the student body even if it can’t be done.
Each candidate’s responses to the debate topics shed light on how much research they had done prior to the debate to better understand how UNC Charlotte could be improved.
Dugan had never met Sullivan prior to the debate and said he had little interaction with Nails. However, Dugan felt that after the debate, there was a clear front-runner.
Without specifying names, current Student Body President Dugan unofficially backed Nails as the better-suited candidate.
“I feel like one candidate was much more concise and clearly outline what he felt was an issue and a logical approach as well as explain his experience regarding that,” Dugan said of Nails’ experience as the president of the Interfraternity Council and as an orientation counselor.
“The other one, I couldn’t really get too much of a clear idea of what he was talking about for almost any of the questions. I had trouble following what he was saying. I feel, personally, he was just way more off the mark than the other candidate,” Dugan said of Sullivan, who had avoided giving specific plans for his term as student body president for much of the debate.
Dugan’s opponent from the 2012-13 election, Belle Isle, maintained a similar outlook.
Belle Isle also felt déjà vu watching this year’s debate. The engineering major saw himself in Sullivan and felt like Nails mirrored Dugan. Belle Isle feels like the results of this year’s election will reflect the parallels seen between Dugan and Nails, meaning Nails would come out on top.
Belle Isle believes Nails would make a better student body president and officially endorsed him.
I asked Dugan to sum up what advice he would like to give the next student body president in a short statement. He said that his replacement should strive to “be as dynamic and flexible as he can possibly be.”
According to Dugan, both candidates have a lot of ideas that will never see the light of day, but he shouldn’t allow that to discourage him.
“There is going to be new information that you’re going to find out every day. And you’re going to meet new networks of people. Where you can activate them based on something you just heard and have this entirely new initiative to start up. And if you get too locked into [your campaign promises], you’re going to find that that isn’t going to necessarily hold true for the entire year,” he said.
Students can cast their vote here now through Wednesday, March 27 until 5 p.m.