Student Gov. candidates discuss athletic cuts, diversity at 1st debate

The candidates for SCSU Student Government President and Vice President held their first debate Thursday, March 24, in Atwood’s Cascade room.

Some of the key issues covered in the debate were the St. Cloud State budget crisis, student involvement and diversity. These issues were reflected in the presidential candidates’ answers to the first question, “What are three challenges St. Cloud State is facing right now?”

“Dropping enrollment is leading to lower revenue,” said Brandon Mitchell, who is running for Student Government president. “We need to bring in more students and get alumni involved… The freshmen retention rate is terrible.”

Mikaela Johnson, running for Student Government president, also identified freshmen retention rate as one of the main issues that needs addressing. One of her platforms is increased communication to new students about resources during the “Huskies First Four,” an initiative to help new students adjust to life at St. Cloud State.

“Representation of the resources we have on campus is so important,” Johnson said. “We have a ways to go to equal that experience across campus.”

Representing diverse populations was another key issue at the debate.

Mitchell’s running mate, Jordan Kennedy said, “I do not think we represent all students equally. The senate does not match the demographic of the student population.”

In order to increase inclusivity among the various cultures, ethnicities, sexualities and races across campus, candidates agreed that making sure the Student Government body accurately represents St. Cloud State’s demographic is key.

“We need to make sure people know [Student Government] is open to anybody,” Mitchell said. “We need diverse applicants… To tell them, ‘we have room for you.’”

“The purpose of the senate is to make sure they are speaking on behalf of the students at SCSU,” said Randy Olson, Johnson’s running mate. “That responsibility is incredibly important. It holds a lot of weight.”

While candidates were not questioned about it overtly, the issue of the recent athletic cuts surfaced a number of times at the debate, most poignantly, when the presidential candidates were asked, “How would you react if the administration made budget cuts without consulting students?” This has been a point of contention within Student Government about how the athletic cuts were handled.

“That was a hard one to face this semester,” Johnson said about Student Government not being involved in the decision to cut the six athletic programs. “It is hard when administration is making decisions about students without having student input.”

While Johnson said she wished Student Government had been informed, she showed empathy for SCSU’s athletic director, Heather Weems.

“Heather Weems was definitely affected by it. She didn’t want to see those programs go,” Johnson said. “A big part of being a student leader and being that voice… is hard decisions about possibly making cuts.”

“I think administration is always going to make decisions without our input,” Mitchell said. “ Next time, hopefully they can give us a final draft before it’s signed.”

The candidates were also questioned about how they plan to keep up student moral in times of “limited resources”, a relevant question given the strong negative reaction to recent athletic cuts.

“We need to make sure we’re exhausting all possibilities before we cut what’s important to our students,” Johnson said. “We need to be spreading money across campus so smaller groups aren’t getting cut.”

Mitchell pointed to alumni as a primary target for dealing with budgetary issues.

“Our alumni are some of the least donating of other universities. That is a major problem,” Mitchell said.

It appeared at the debate that the U.S. presidential campaign isn’t the only one drawing larger-than-normal participation levels. According to Randy Olson, one of the candidates running for Vice President, turnout for the debate was one of the best he’d seen.

“This is one of the largest groups in attendance of a debate in five or six years,” Olson said. “That’s encouraging. There’s an opportunity to grow here because we see involvement growing.”

Time will tell if a good debate turnout translates into a strong election turnout on April 4-6.

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