Last Wednesday was the annual Executive Board debate for the Vassar Student Association (VSA). All candidates running for an Executive Board position, including VSA President, Vice President for Operations, Vice President for Student Life, Vice President for Academics, Vice President for Activities and Vice President for Finance, were required to attend the debate. The debate was put together by the Board of Elections committee and was moderated by The Miscellany News’ Editor-in-Chief. However, the structure of the debate was inadequate to support the number of candidates, failing to give the candidates the necessary time to discuss their platforms. As a result, the debate became confusing, unproductive and uninformative for many attending the event, ultimately falling short of fulfilling its intention.
While we at The Miscellany News approve of the boost in the number of candidates in comparison to recent years, we find fault with the debate process and feel that the Board of Elections should restructure it in order to foster a more informative environment. We hope that by clarifying the function and structure of the debate, all future elections will continue to see an increase in the number of candidates, thus fostering a more diverse VSA.
The purpose of the Executive Board debate is to place the candidates in conversation with their opposition in order for students to gain a better understanding of each candidate’s platform and ability to perform the position. However, last week’s debate was poorly structured and ultimately failed to achieve its goal. The placing of all of the candidates for every Executive Board position, a total of 14 students, on one panel created a series of problems for those attending the debate. Due to the sheer number of people on the panel, at points it was unclear who was running for which position.
Furthermore, each candidate’s similar answers failed to help distinguish any of the candidates in terms of their platforms and the positions for which they were running. This is troublesome for the student body because students cannot make their decision for the election when they cannot differentiate the candidates and their platforms from each other. The cultivation of such confusion ultimately undermined the entire purpose of the debate.
The time the candidates are given to speak during the debate is meant to give the voters more information about each candidate. It also gives the candidates an opportunity to prove to the student body that they deserve to be voted into their positions. However, instead of debating in conversation with each other, many of the candidates simply repeated their written opening statements. Furthermore, many of the candidates merely echoed and affirmed each others’ statements. While it is good that all candidates care equally about the student body and agree about their duty to serve it, this constant reaffirming of the same statements and ideas nevertheless left many attendees with the idea that all of the candidates were running on nearly the exact same platform.
In addition to this, not every candidate was given an equal amount of speaking time, further illustrating the debate’s poor organization. Notably, the candidates running for the VP of Operations position were only asked one question during the entire 90-minute debate, thus giving them the least amount of time to speak, a clear disadvantage to those candidates running in the election. Furthermore, the construction of the debate only provided enough time for the candidates to repeat their statements for the audience, information that was easily accessible through the VSA’s website. In the end, the entire 90-minute debate functioned as a formality and wasted the time of the people who chose to attend, failing to help them make a decision about the election.
In order to facilitate a better debate, The Miscellany News proposes that all candidates be required to attend a workshop prior to the debate, perhaps with the President of the Debate Society. The purpose of this workshop would be to familiarize candidates with the structure of the debate and to familiarize them with basic debate techniques. By preparing the candidates with this workshop, students would attend a more lively and interesting debate, in which candidates actually engage in productive discourse with their opponents.
Further, The Miscellany News proposes that the Board of Elections completely restructure all future debates so as to avoid the confusion that resulted this year. Instead of putting all of the candidates for the entire Executive Board on one panel, each position should be given 20 minutes and have their own separate debate in order to put the candidates in conversation with each other and ultimately provide students with the information they need to vote. This solution eliminates the problem of uneven speaking times as well. By putting each Executive Board candidate in direct conversation with their competitors, voters will be able to see more of each candidate individually and thus learn what makes each candidate qualified for their respective desired position.
Creating separate debates for each position also gives people the opportunity to attend the debates they wish to attend, thus allowing them to target the issues and positions that they are most interested in.
For those candidates running unopposed, The Miscellany News suggests they receive a reduced debate time and instead participate in an open question and answer session, in order to put those candidates in conversation with their constituency.
The overall restructuring of the debate will give candidates more time to better explain their platform and put their ideas in dialog with each other. By breaking the candidates up into smaller groups, the debate would lead to an easier flow of conversation between the candidates and ultimately allow students to make more informed choices when voting.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.