Candidates disagree on GAPSA’s role

Two presidential candidates squared off in a debate Thursday.

Paul Freeman, left, and Abou Amara, right, speak during a debate on Thursday at Coffman Union.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Paul Freeman, left, and Abou Amara, right, speak during a debate on Thursday at Coffman Union.

by Cali Owings

The two candidates who will face off next week for the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly  presidency have a different set of priorities for the upcoming year.
During a debate Thursday night, hosted by the All Campus Elections Commission and the Minnesota Daily, current GAPSA President Abou Amara  and Vice President for Grants Paul Freeman disagreed  on how to make the graduate student government more effective.
Amara, who returned this week from a lobbying trip in Washington, D.C., emphasized the importance of representing graduate students in the state and national Capitols. As a first-year student in the public policy program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Amara said he had a passion for public policy and service, which drives his work with GAPSA.
It is important for the GAPSA president to work with the Legislature to make sure that the organization can make tangible improvements to the quality of education, life and services for graduate students, Amara said. For example, he said he met with legislators while in Washington to discuss changes to H1-b  visas for âÄúspecialty occupationsâÄù that allow international graduate students to work in their fields.
But to Freeman, itâÄôs important that the GAPSA president does not get âÄútoo far afield in the world of policy.âÄù He said making internal improvements to GAPSA and expanding communication between the executive board and the councils were more important.
He likened the organization to a bus. He said at this point the organization shouldnâÄôt be too concerned about where the bus is going but should focus on repairing the problems that exist before moving forward.
âÄúYou canâÄôt drive the bus if the bus doesnâÄôt drive,âÄù he said.
Though he agreed that GAPSA had many struggles, Amara said it was important to maintain a vision for the organization.
âÄúBefore the bus broke down, we were going somewhere,âÄù Amara said, borrowing FreemanâÄôs analogy.
Despite their differences, both candidates offered suggestions for internal improvements to GAPSA and their outreach to students.
Freeman said he saw the role of the president as an ambassador to other councils and students who are part of GAPSA from the Duluth and Rochester campuses. He said âÄúknocking down financial barriersâÄù for students from other campuses to attend events in the Twin Cities would help them to be more engaged in GAPSA.
He said he wanted to make students more excited about GAPSA. Gauging the level of interest in the election by the small number of people in attendance at the debates, Freeman said if GAPSA were more effective, for good or for bad, students would be more interested.
Amara also suggested improvements to communication such as adding a director position. He said the fundamental problem was that graduate students donâÄôt know what GAPSA does, and a communications director could get that information to them.
Freeman argued that adding another position would not help the organization to improve its vertical leadership structure. He said it was important to focus on letting the councils drive the agenda, rather than the executive board.
To address this issue, Amara suggested bimonthly presidentâÄôs meetings to make sure the concerns of the councils are heard.
Both candidates agreed that a fundamental challenge to moving forward was to rebuild trust in the organization.
Freeman said graduate students had told him âÄúwe just donâÄôt want our student government to embarrass us.âÄù