3 Questions: MSA candidates

Michael Pursell

In preparation for this week’s elections, the Minnesota Daily Editorial Board prepared three questions to present to each of the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) presidential tickets. Candidates were asked to respond to our queries by email, as specifically as possible, given 100-150 words for each question.

Below are our questions, along with candidates’ unedited responses. Cortez Riley and Mandi Stebbins did not respond. 

For more information on how to vote for MSA president and vice president, you can follow this link. Voting runs April 5-7.
 

Sarah Shook & Brandon Cofield 

1. What tone will you take with the administration and state legislature, and how will this tone help you achieve results that will benefit students? 

We’ll take a positive, thoughtful, but assertive tone with the administration and the state legislature. Although MSA is the official voice of the student body, it does not have binding legislative authority in any other capacity. We find this to be an exceptionally troublesome reality that needs change, and proposals such as Shared Governance require serious evaluation. It is nevertheless our reality, and we must work with the administration and state legislature to achieve our goals.

Sarah, as ranking student representative to the Board of Regents, already has existing relationships with President Bruinicks, state legislators, and many regents. Sarah has achieved tangible results by focusing on relationships and earning trust.   

We won’t be shy in voicing our concerns, and we won’t hesitate to speak loudly when decisions are being made that affect student interests. But we don’t believe standing outside Morill Hall screaming into a megaphone is a helpful way to earn influence, and we don’t believe we can earn the trust and respect of the administration by creating an “us versus them” mentality. We realize they’re in this business because they care about higher education.  

Our pragmatic but firm approach will enable us to build the trust and credibility we need to earn our seat at the table when decisions are made, and have our concerns taken seriously. That philosophy is lacking in MSA, and we find it exceptionally concerning.

2. Explain in a concrete and detailed way what your step-by-step plans are to control tuition hikes and prevent the burdens of budget cuts from falling disproportionately on students.

The budget crises facing the University and the state are historic. The stimulus funds that have supported the University’s budget will decline sharply next year, in effect pushing University revenues over a cliff.  

First, we will insist students are represented on all key decision-making committees. The University administration has shown a reticence over the past year to involve students in this process, and we believe a strong case can be made for direct, tangible student involvement in every aspect of this critical process.

Second, we will significantly and dramatically increase communication on key budget issues. MSA needs to take a leadership role in carefully evaluating proposed budget changes. We’ll create a special unit within MSA to serve as a liaison to the budget process.

Third, we will finally take seriously the notion of student lobbying at the capitol. Although the legislative certificate program has made important first steps, we must extensively broaden our legislative impact. For example, Support the ‘U’ Day, although well intentioned, is subtractive. Instead of creating the long-term, relationship-based political advocacy vital to winning state funds, Support the ‘U’ Day condenses the entire process into a few hours on a single day. We’ll finally give political advocacy the attention it deserves and make legislative impact a high priority. Nobody can tell the University’s story better than its students.

Fourth, we’ll insist on tuition accountability. We see value in creating a layer of formal accountability that does not currently exist. Tuition increases should be justified, and spending cuts must be carefully analyzed. Similar to congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., MSA can create a mechanism to manage this complex process and hold feet to the fire. As Ronald Regan said, “trust, but verify.”

3. What are your specific, step-by-step plans to increase MSA’s relevance to the student body and increase student engagement in MSA?

MSA’s value is only as strong as its engagement of the student body. How can the official voice of the student body be taken seriously if fewer than 5 percent of student groups on campus are even represented at Forum, or when voter turnout for presidential elections hovers at an abysmal 10 percent?  

First, we’ll make engagement MSA’s highest priority. We’ll incorporate student engagement in every aspect of what we do. From live-streaming MSA Forum and committee meetings to providing Twitter updates on MSA’s activities, we’ll use an all-encompassing approach to spark a new interest in MSA.

Second, we’ll launch an aggressive campaign to secure student group representation at Forum.

Third, we’ll study the key drivers that affect participation in Forum, such as scheduling or content, and make changes based on these findings.

Fourth, we’ll make involvement in MSA more fulfilling. By focusing on activities that matter – political advocacy, the presidential search process, budget changes, campus safety, academic success, graduation rates, and others – we’ll reposition MSA as a rewarding and powerful organization on campus.

Fifth, we’ll be more responsive to the concerns of students. MSA must serve as not only a sentry (scanning the horizon for future problems), but also as a key stakeholder in today’s problems on campus. By becoming more directly involved in advocacy based on current student concerns, MSA can create material value that simply hasn’t existed in the past several years.

 

Paul Strain & Paul Buchel

1. What tone will you take with the administration and state legislature, and how will this tone help you achieve results that will benefit students?

Paul and I feel we need to take a strong tone with the administration and the state legislature in order to properly represent students. For the first time at this land-grant institution, students are forced to pay more for their education than the state is willing to. Students must not continue to foot the bill of politics or a University that is run as a business, not an educational institution. We will expand the Legislative Certificate Program to at least twenty student lobbyists to ensure that the student voice is consistently present at the state legislature so that legislators cannot ignore their duty of supporting this University. This past year, we have had very tough conversations with administrators. They do not always see the answers to student issues, which is why it is so important for us to set a strong tone and directly tell them what students want.

2. Explain in a concrete and detailed way what your step-by-step plans are to control tuition hikes and prevent the burdens of budget cuts from falling disproportionately on students. 

We will advocate for tuition increase freezes. This forces responsibility onto the state legislature by making them formulate a budget big enough so tuition does not have to go beyond a certain point. Also, freezes force accountability onto the administration by demanding long-term, healthy budgeting practices. The result is similar to the stimulus package situation where the state refused to give the money to the University unless tuition increases remained low. Students would be insulated from fluctuations in the economy and tuition increases would be spread out over four years time instead of larger increases biannually. States like Ohio and Georgia have proven that increase freezes work better than four-year per student tuition locks, which hurt incoming classes. Cuts cannot be made up by tuition increases alone, the administration must show us that they are sharing this burden and taking the same cuts as students and staff. 

3. What are your specific, step-by-step plans to increase MSA’s relevance to the student body and increase student engagement in MSA? 

One of our plans to increase relevance and engagement in MSA is to finish our work of putting the Shared Governance rule on paper so students will finally have a true, binding voice and future administrations cannot argue with the policy on the books.  Students interested in MSA will see that they have a true stake in student government. We need to increase outreach by publishing a MSA Newsletter, which will be sent to every student group on campus in order to begin a healthy conversation among student leaders and create a unified student voice. Under our leadership as President and Legislative Affairs Chair, the Legislative Certificate Program created internships this year and we want to expand that to other roles. MSA will have students earning credits in fields like Graphic Design, Media Relations, Student Group Relations, and Marketing, which will give them hands-on experience and help MSA serve students.


Andrew Wagner & Tove Garber

1. What tone will you take with the administration and state legislature, and how will this tone help you achieve results that will benefit students?

We will be firm, yet cordial in dealing with the administration. Students expect to be taken seriously and demand that their concerns are not neglected. We will be forceful but cooperative, being neither too overaggressive to lose their trust or too submissive to ignore our responsibilities. We will be both friendly and tough, but never a fire-breather or lapdog. We will work quickly to establish recognition as student advocates with the state legislature. At the Capitol, we will work to ensure that university budget requests of student interest are fully funded, and that administration pet projects, which often can wait until better economic times, are not given priority. This attitude will ensure that student affairs are heard, respected, and addressed by both the administration and state legislature. If student proposals are met with resistance at either level, we will find a way to work within our confines to change minds and policy.

2. Explain in a concrete and detailed way what your step-by-step plans are to control tuition hikes and prevent the burdens of budget cuts from falling disproportionately on students.

We will investigate the viability of a tuition freeze with the administration, which would maintain an undergraduate’s tuition constant for four years. Alternatively, we will push our Truth in Tuition program in which students are told what their four-year education will cost upfront before deciding to attend the university. We will not be deterred by administrative resistance, and by pushing for shared governance, we will make tuition decisions more transparent than ever before. Additionally, we will work with the administration to ensure cost cutting measures are explored to the fullest before tuition or fees hikes are ever put on the table for consideration. We will work with GAPSA to have non-partisan voter drives on campus to increase election turnout, encouraging students to support candidates who will keep their tuition low. Students can only enact change at the state legislature if they prove to be a demonstrable voting block.

3. What are your specific, step-by-step plans to increase MSA’s relevance to the student body and increase student engagement in MSA?

We want to reduce the barrier to entry of student groups on MSA from a petition of thirty students to a more manageable fifteen, immediately incentivizing participation from smaller student groups and bringing more voices to the table. We will be a weekly presence at RHA meetings, dorm council meetings, and Greek (Pan-Hel, IFC) meetings. Too often these groups work on the same issues, but do not communicate.  Forming close partnerships with campus communities will make our shared goals more achievable. We will make the student services fees system easier to access and fairer to participants by instituting a viewpoint neutral appeals process, clarifying standards, and proposing mandatory funding to groups meeting basic requirements. We will advocate for student wishes such as selling alcohol in Coffman and repealing the social host ordinance. If MSA proposes common sense fees solutions, forms close partnerships, and enacts student-oriented change, MSA will become more relevant and legitimate.