Student Body President Debate in Review

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Transparency and school unity took center stage on Tuesday afternoon as candidates for Student Body President -- Dorea Slagle, Jonah Ortiz, Patrick Thomas, Megan Ristine and Katherine Thompson -- participated in King’s presidential debate. The candidates spoke to a packed City Room about their visions for King’s and fielded questions about their respective platforms. Most candidates stressed a desire to strengthen student government’s transparency and improve communication between student government and the student body.

When asked about the role of the King’s Council (comprising House presidents and the Student Body President),  Thomas was the first to respond: “People are confused about what the council does.” Thomas told the crowd he hopes to provide clarity about the council and its activities by creating a student government website akin to Hillsdale and Grove City College’s that would post council bylaws and meeting minutes. Thomas estimated the website would cost $1,000. However, Jordan Frankfurt, President of the TKC Programming Club, told the Tribune the actual figure would be about $5,000.

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Ortiz also mentioned the council, lamenting a lack of student participation in meetings and obscurely-posted meeting minutes.

“We need to include students in these conversations and give them back a stake in their own government,” Ortiz said. Like Thomas, Ortiz supported the creation of a student government website and said that, as Student Body President, he hopes to better promote meetings and create time at the end for students to ask questions.

sbpdebate2While Thompson called a website a “medium” for creating a vision for student government, she highlighted role definition as a starting point. Thompson said she sees the council’s mission as “about representation and responsible discernment,” and the role of the Student Body President as “a vision-caster and a manager” for their activities. She further underlined the necessity of making certain House presidents are communicating council decisions and debates to their House communities, and suggested the use of Google forms to receive student feedback.

Conversely, Ristine hesitated in terming the problems her opponents addressed as transparency issues (“transparency means there’s something to hide,” she said) and instead spoke to a need for greater “accessibility.” She also advocated for a student government website so that students will no longer “have to dig around and ask for [meeting minutes].”

Slagle concurred with Ristine, explaining her proposal to more effectively market council meetings by advertising for them or including summaries in the King’s Weekly. Slagle also reminded the audience that “accessibility is a character trait, not just something you put in a platform,” encouraging students to email her with questions or comments. Nevertheless, students welcomed this discussion of transparency. Julia Hansen (‘18) responded that, particularly in light of the recent council budget increase, “I absolutely loved the emphasis on transparency.”

During the debate, students sounded off on twitter with comments, questions, and GIFs using #SBPDebate16.

The candidates also spoke about the relationship between the Student Body President and House presidents. Ortiz said he would meet individually with each president once a month, which Thomas held would be “too many” meetings and would be more effectively replaced with town halls for cabinet and council members. Thompson challenged both plans, citing a “lack of definition” for what town halls and coffee meetings would look like.

The candidates agreed that Houses will likely be self-sustainable in 10 years due to a recent change in King’s fundraising policy that now allows House members to fundraise 11 out of 12 months of the year. Thompson proposed adding fundraising training at Statesmanship Institute to help instruct House executive teams in effective fundraising, and Thomas and Ortiz both pledged to work with the school’s administration to prepare Houses. Slagle urged the Houses to save and spend their funds with “frugality and intentionality,” asking, “are we proving ourselves now with the money we have?”, while Ristine maintained that building unity amongst current students would yield larger alumni donations later.

Ristine reiterated her emphasis on student unity when answering other questions, citing King’s Gear as a positive trend in cultivating unity and suggesting that Houses open events to more members of the student body so the trend continues upward. Thompson echoed the desire for unity, saying she hopes to better integrate freshmen with friends outside of their Houses.  To that end, the other candidates hailed student organizations for giving freshmen a “community” (Ortiz) and the chance to “cultivate tangible skills (Slagle).

The candidates were also unanimous in praising Student Athletic Advisory Committee president Tyler Hinsley for his work in connecting the athletics community to the student body at large. Thompson called Hinsley the “epitome of dedication and management” to cheers from the crowd, and Ortiz encouraged the students to care about athletics whether or not they played sports. While Thomas is against adding a cabinet position for athletics next year, he believes that future SBP's may readdress the issue in the next five to 10 years.  Slagle pledged to work with the budget committee to give SAAC more funds.

Afterwards, the King’s community shared their thoughts on the debate. “It’s hard to say who won because a lot of [the candidates] have really similar platforms, and they want to grow the school and help students,” Anne Carman (‘18) pointed out. “The debate was enlightening to help me make a more informed decision on who would be able to lead the school best.” Jesse Inman ('16) expressed concern, however, over the “strong bias on managerial concepts,” among the candidates, which he warned lacks a "human touch."

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Corrections: The phrase "Thomas and Ristine discussed the possibility of creating a cabinet position for athletics" adjusted to reflect Thomas' statement in the debate that he is opposed to creating such a position. 

CampusElle Rogers