Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Over fifty students attended the presidential candidate forum on Tuesday night, and pizza disappeared rapidly, much to the chagrin of your overworked and undernourished Daily Gazette reporter. Three of the four candidates–Peter Gardner ’08, Rasa Petrauskaite ’08, and Louis Rosenberg ’09 attended the forum. The fourth candidate, Carlos Villafuerte ’08, is currently studying abroad, and his responses to the questions will be published in an upcoming issue of the Daily Gazette.
The first question was posed by Student Council, and concerned the candidate’s ability to be a liasion between the student body and the administration, which is “the president’s biggest responsibility on Council.” Gardner said “I don’t have any experience and for this job I think that’s beneficial… you do not want somebody who’s in bed with the administration.” He feels that “time and time again the administration has acted as a roadblock to initiatives… the Student Council should not be one more speed bump on the way for these initiatives.”
Petrauskaite claimed to have “a great working relationship with the administration… and I’ve found them to be very supportive of my ideas.” She brought up her idea to extend the hours of Sharples until 10 or 11 at night and to allow students to use points in the Ville, an idea which she claims Linda McDougall of Dining Services and Stu Hain of Facilities have supported.
Rosenberg said that while his opponents had great ideas, “we elect candidates because of the ideas they voice rather than candidates with the skills to accomplish what we want… I understand how the process works and I know how to get stuff done.” He pointed to his involvement in restructuring the Jewish community on campus, saying “in order to accomplish change you need to understand how the administration works, they don’t just shut things down for no reason, they shut things down because we’re not going through the right process to change them.”
Petrauskaite is the only candidate who has served on Student Council before, and one student asked about her past experience, saying “the last time you ran you said you were far ahead on your plan, but it hasn’t happened and you said it was because of a lack of support for your idea on Student Council… how have you changed? I feel like you’ve let us down in the past.” Petrauskaite explained, “when I came to Student Council, I was the youngest member for that whole duration… I think that learning to communicate with others is important, and being open-minded is a step I’ve been trying to take… I can work with the concerns of other people and make other people on Council feel comfortable.”
Rosenberg said that he can get things done because “in the past year or two I’ve been involved in founding Chabad [an alternative Jewish student organization] and SOFI [Swarthmore Organization for Israel]… when I came here I saw that there was not much on these topics… I found people who were interested in making these things happen, and I founded these organizations which have had well-attended events… I think it’s a good testament to what I’ll be able to do on Council.”
Gardner used the opportunity to highlight a theme of his comments, the idea that “there’s a frustration with the way Student Council has operated in the past primarily because of bureaucratic inefficiencies,” and that he will cut through those inefficiencies.
One student had a question about how Gardner would get the money for the promises in his platform, and he said that “I am confident that I could find money somewhere,” claiming that “it’s not as difficult as people assume it is to get money from SBC.”
One student asked about how the candidates would reach out to different cultural groups on campus, such as students of color and queer students. Petrauskaite pointed to having been in touch with Earthlust and the Good Food Project, Rosenberg discussed his plan “to institute a system of dorm representatives… in order to better facilitate communication between students and Council, and Gardner said, “I will be tabling in Sharples at least one night a week.” He talked about a problem from last semester, when Bill Clinton was going to speak at a campaign rally here but the administration said no because of various facilities issues without asking the students about it. He said, “it seems to me that that displays a fundamental lack of communication between the administration and students.”
A second student pointed out that none of the candidates actually answered the question about cultural groups, and asked them to actually answer it this time. Rosenberg clarified himself by saying, “I think the best way for students who have issues that need to be addressed is to work with RAs on every hall… I believe that the RAs should be responsible for issues of discrimination.” Gardner repeated his point about tabling in Sharples, saying “I think every group on campus deserves the ear of the student council,” and Petrauskaite said, “I will e-mail leaders of student groups and ask them to meet for lunch as I have done in the past.” None of the students actually mentioned “students of color” or “queer students” in their second responses.
At this point someone asked Petrauskaite a question about her idea for extending the hours of Sharples. They asked how she would do it without increasing the budget, and she said, “Linda said that she can keep fewer people at Tarble and move the rest of the staff to Sharples.” She elaborated by saying that in her plan, students will be able to eat at Sharples as many times as they want to within a semester, effectively eliminating meals, and that each student will have two hundred points per semester. She believes this can be done by Spring 2008 if the student body supports it in a referendum. Somebody else asked Petrauskaite whether anyone was talking to the employees about how they felt, and she responded “I think that’s a valid point and it’s something we should take into consideration.”
When a student asked whether the candidates actually understood the student budgeting process, Gardner said “my experience has been one of endless forms and a three-hour meeting where nothing actually happened… I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a way to make the process easier.” Petrauskaite referred back to her dining services plan by stressing that it would not require an increase in the budget of Sharples.” Rosenberg referenced his experience with the Forum for Free Speech and also as a leader in various clubs, saying “I understand how the funding process works… in terms of money for proposals, my understanding is that you need to sit down with specific administrators and see in what ways you can work things into their budget.”
One student asked how Student Council would make sure that it was doing things that the student body wants, asking how specifically they would ensure that their initiatives followed majority opinion. Gardner repeated his promise to table in front of Sharples and said, “I think these processes should be short… I don’t see why things should take a whole semester.” Petrauskaite referenced her dining plan again, saying that “there should be a referendum on these things… I see a referendum between mid-September and mid-November on my meal plan idea.” On the other hand, she said, “for changes such as more computers in McCabe, I think those are small enough decisions that Council can just go ahead with it.” Rosenberg agreed that “referendums are very important… at each step of the way we’re going to have to ask questions.”
One student asked each of the candidates what their most important tool in getting things done would be, in twenty-five words or less. Petrauskaite said, “I will be personal and friendly and try to understand the concerns of others,” Rosenberg said, “I think my knowledge and experience will be my most valuable tool,” and Gardner said, “I am a fresh face, I don’t have any agenda, I’m not a puppet of the administration… my willingness to be an aggressive lobbyist.”
One student asked the candidates what one issue they would bring to the Board of Managers if they could, and all answered with variations on the idea of going to the students. Rosenberg said he would talk to the College 2025 planning committee, and “I would take those considerations to the board of managers.” Gardner said, “if you want to get something done, you talk to the managers… that’s a way to leapfrog this inefficient tangle, I would talk to the leaders of student groups to leapfrog the administration.” Petrauskaite said, “I would not be comfortable saying, this is my opinion… I think that if the administration wants answers then there should be a referendum or polling among the students.”
The candidates were asked whether they liked leading meetings and whether they were good at it. Gardner said, “I love leading meetings, and I’m good at it,” and when asked to elaborate, said “being involved in the theater department necessitates you leading meetings… I try to aim for a congenial atmosphere.” Petrauskaite said, “I’ve learned how to lead meetings in the Investment Club,” and Rosenberg referenced his experience with the campus group for Israel, saying, “I’m confident that I can be involved less in the future… because we’ve organized a group of people that can accomplish great things, and my leadership has created a strong group.”
That last question was coupled with a question about the last lecture, performance or event that surprised or taught the candidates something, and all three named theatrical events. Gardner praised “Fishbowl,” Petrauskaite the last Boy Meets Tractor Show, and Rosenberg Into the Woods.
Asked about a recent success in their own lives, the candidates responded with a variety of answers. Petrauskaite talked about the extended hours at Trotter computer lab. “It’s something that got done because I personally came to ITS and spoke to them about it… I persuaded them right there and then to extend the hours.” Rosenberg arranged a summer sublet in Los Angeles just today, and Gardner heard from a summer internship, and also, “I turn twenty-one in two hours and so that’s a success… today I received a Keg-erator!”
The final question was about what the candidates felt was the most important initiative to continue and how they would change the way the administration works with students. Rosenberg named “Thanksgiving in the Spring,” and said, “I believe the number one way to increase the ease and respect the administration has with the students is to understand what the administration goes through… they don’t believe we respect them.”
Gardner seconded “Thanksgiving in the Spring,” and said, “it’s all too easy to kowtow to President Bloom, it’s easy for them to treat the students as if this was a high school.” He promises that his direct style will make sure the administration respects students.
Petrauskaite feels that “Student Council can get more done with double-sided printers right now than with bigger initiatives,” and said, “I would make an active effort to check in quite often with the deans and president.”