Student Government Association's Speech Night turned into a political circus on March 30, as SGA President Scott Fisher focused on his accomplishments in office and faced sharp criticism from Senator Nick Vargas, his challenger, who had many allies in the audience.
Three of the general election candidates endorsed Vargas for president, while only two endorsed Fisher, but two more candidates endorsed Fisher later in the week. The 20 remaining candidates were either not present, or chose not to publicly endorse.
While Vargas said he agrees with the policies Fisher has enacted, the challenger, a junior theater studies major objects the way the incumbent promoted policy.
Fisher, a junior political communication major, was criticized for starting Facebook groups and giving iBeacon/i interviews to introduce his initiatives to the student body before appealing them to the SGA. He was also attacked for the methods he uses to endorse his initiatives which Vargas said has ignored his responsibility to introduce them to the SGA.
"The way he's pursued and worked on things has showed a lack of a leadership and professionalism," Vargas said, when questioned after his speech. a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Y7ABFEMWSw"Watch Vargas' speech in its entirety here/a
Vargas said there have also been instances where Fisher chose to work individually or with the recently implemented Commissioners Council on finding solutions to student issues, instead of bringing those issues directly to SGA. At times, he said, some SGA members were not aware of certain student concerns until proposals regarding their solutions were presented to the joint council.
While Fisher has been chastised for some of his actions as president, in an interview with iThe Beacon/i he questioned whether Vargas has demonstrated the leadership necessary for to hold the office of executive president. Vargas has not introduced any legislation to the SGA during his three years on council, something Fisher said might be telling of what he'll actually accomplish if elected.
"I think you can best judge someone on what they'll do based on what they've done in the past. I've introduced multiple legislation," Fisher said. "You'll have to ask Nick what he's done. I can only speak for myself."
However, Vargas said that while he has not created legislation, he has made positive changes for the performing arts department as senator.
"I've represented a department, and not the entire student body, so even though I didn't make any new legislation it doesn't mean I haven't done my job as senator," he said.
Communication was the theme of the night, as Vargas, as well as Executive Treasurer Jenn Barry, both alleged that Fisher has not been adequately communicating with the SGA council.
"People talk about communication, but where was the communication on their end?" said Fisher in an interview with iThe Beacon/i following his speech, adding that any person who had questions or comments for him could have simply contacted him about it. Fisher also said that his Facebook groups have not been made to ignore the SGA, but rather to communicate with students and and gain their support to drive his initiatives.
Also brought to the table was a letter Fisher drafted to the Board of Trustees asking them to freeze tuition increases, that he signed with his title of SGA executive president. Because SGA had no knowledge of the proposal, the appropriateness of signing the document with his official title was questioned. However, Fisher claims he never said the letter was representative of the entire SGA, and did not bring the draft to the their attention because of time constraints.
Fisher said he stands by his actions as president, and will continue to fight for legislation for gender-neutral housing and affordable tuition if re-elected. He also plans on pursuing additional reforms like creating more affective health policies, improving the policy for signing in guests, improving the student lounge and raising the hourly student wage for work-study and student employment. a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_R7Ro7-qGI"Watch Fisher's speech in its entirety here/a
Performing Arts Senator Vargas has been instrumental in arranging the first joint auditions between student organizations Kidding Around and Rareworks, and has spoken with head of the performing arts department Melia Bensussen about creating additional performance space for students.
If elected to the presidency, Vargas said he will continue to work on the issue of performance space, while also creating initiatives to re-examine the SGA constitution, improve the student commuter meal plan and boot up the official SGA Web site, which has not been active since 2005. He also said he would continue to expand upon on important issues from Fisher's presidency.
"[Fisher] has had his opportunity to show the student body and the people he leads what kind of leader he actually is," Vargas said.
Fisher, who said he did not ask his own supporters to attend the speeches because of their busy schedules, said the latent support for Vargas that night may have distracted them from discussing the real issues at hand.
"Tonight turned into another campaigning opportunity when it should have been a conversation," he said.