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USAC candidates discuss referendums, use of student fees in online debate

Five candidates for Undergraduate Students Association Council president debate over feasibility of platforms, student fees and other campus issues at the 2020 USAC debate.

By Samantha Fredberg

May 1, 2020 7:57 a.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated Sachi Cooper is a geography and public affairs student. In fact, Cooper is a geography student. The original version of this article also incorrectly stated that USAC oversees the Community Programs Office. In fact, CPO is under Student Affairs.

This post was updated May 3 at 3:35 p.m.

Candidates for the 2020-2021 Undergraduate Students Association Council clashed over issues, such as tuition refunds, resources for students amid the COVID-19 pandemic and which special projects to fund, during the annual candidates debate Thursday.

The Undergraduate Students Association Elections Board held its annual debate for the spring USAC election over livestream with over 200 online viewers. This year’s event was co-hosted by the Daily Bruin and featured 24 out of 30 candidates.

The majority of the debate focused on contested positions including president, internal vice president, external vice president, Facilities commissioner and others. Uncontested candidates were given a one-minute opening statement before being dismissed.

Many candidates focused on the feasibility of their opponents’ platforms, USAC’s transparency and the future of student fees.

This election has around double the number of contested positions than the 2019 election had, which led to a more contentious debate. Three candidates ran for president in 2019, and five are currently running in 2020.

Referendums

A USAC referendum is a proposal to raise student fees for a specific goal or policy. Referendums include a 25% return to financial aid, so low-income students are not affected by a fee increase. Students directly vote to decide if a referendum will be implemented. There are two referendums on the ballot this year.

The debate included the two proposed referendums: Cultivating Unity for Bruins Referendum and Good Clothes Good People Basic Needs Referendum. Andrew Raychawdhuri, a Daily Bruin opinion columnist, represented the opposition to the CUB, though this does not represent the official stance of the paper.

The CUB referendum would fund the creation of a Black Resource Center with a programming budget, pay the rent of the Transfer Student Center and create more spaces for meditation. 

Alexandria Davis, candidate representative for CUB and chairperson of the Afrikan Student Union at UCLA, said that a $45 rise in student fees to support the referendum is justified because the issues represented in CUB have needed to be addressed for years. 

Raychawdhuri said that there is no urgency to pass the referendum in the middle of a pandemic, as students will not be able to utilize the benefits of the referendum for the foreseeable future.

Davis said that CUB has been pushed off for years and must be implemented as soon as possible. 

“I see the CUB referenda as the only way to restore these historic inequalities,” she said. 

The GCGP referendum would fund the addition of school supplies and hygiene products to USAC’s GCGP redistribution center. Items in the redistribution center, including clothes, wheelchairs, umbrellas and more, are available for all undergraduate students to borrow for free.

Elizabeth Hanczor, a Daily Bruin opinion columnist, served as the opposition to GCGP, though this does not represent the official stance of the paper. She said that GCGP should not be addressed as a referendum because it is small enough to be covered entirely by USAC surplus funds. 

Sneha Thirkannad, the candidate representative for GCGP, said the USAC surplus changes each year. 

“We can’t rely on something if we don’t know how much there is to offer,” she said. “We’re asking you to pay 99 cents, and we will be able to provide necessities for thousands of students.”

President

Presidential candidate Naomi Riley said that her fellow candidate Orion Smedley is not educated on issues relating to USAC transparency and budget reports from funded groups, like committees under the UCLA Community Programs Office.

Smedley said that USAC should continue to withhold fees from CPO groups until they present budget reports. 

“We don’t just give up,” said Smedley, currently general representative 2 and a third-year physics student. “We still have the ability to keep withholding fees from them.” 

Riley also said that candidate Josuel Vasquez, who promised to cancel all student fees amid the COVID-19 pandemic, does not understand the nuances associated with student fees. 

Vasquez, a third-year mathematics student, said that the only fair plan is to cancel student fees, including the potential new fees that would come with the referendum on the ballot. 

“If you go to the store, and you don’t get what you paid for, you get your money back,” Vasquez said. 

Riley, the current USAC Academic Affairs commissioner and a third-year political science student, said that the CUB referendum is long overdue and should happen regardless of students not being able to utilize it immediately. Following through with the CUB referendum is contingent upon collecting student fees.

Presidential candidate Aniq Chunara said that though canceling student fees is logical, Vasquez lacks a direct plan to do so. 

“I would like to see some concrete details,” said Chunara, a second-year political science student. 

Presidential candidate and third-year business economics student Josh Feldman called for Chunara, who served on the USA Judicial Board, to resign from his position if he is planning to continue to run for president. However, Chunara said he has already stepped down and is eligible to run. 

Facilities commissioner

Another contentious discussion took place when Facilities commissioner candidates Draco Tong and Sachi Cooper criticized each other’s platforms and qualifications.

Cooper, a second-year geography student, disapproved of Tong’s platforms, stating that his plan to implement solar panels on campus is too ambitious and vague, especially considering UCLA already failed to meet its goal of zero waste by 2020.

Tong, a second-year electrical engineering student, said that though his plan is ambitious, he believes that his engineering background is more applicable for the position than Cooper’s background.

Cooper, a member of the Facilities commission, said she would focus on collaboration with administration and students from diverse communities to address sustainability issues.

International student representative

Similarly, international student representative candidate Nadine Avari said her fellow candidate Nox Yang’s proposal to establish a multicultural center is not feasible. Candidate Bakur Madini added that he disapproves of the proposal’s need to raise student fees. 

Yang said that there are available spaces on the Hill that can house the center. She added that international students pay three times the tuition of in-state students, and any additional funds needed should be taken from these tuitions.

International students face many questions for next year, including the chance of returning to school despite travel bans, maintaining visa statuses and more. Madini said his solution is to push administration to make a plan for international students, but Avari said that would not be enough. 

“We’re all uncertain, but the UC administration is just as uncertain as us,” she said. 

Internal vice president

The two candidates for internal vice president, Emily Hong Van Luong and Brandon Broukhim, entered a debate over what the position demands a focus on.

“Transparency is the IVP’s greatest responsibility,” said Broukhim, who serves as general representative 3 on USAC. 

He added that the USAC meeting livestream “USAC Live!” is a laptop in the corner of the room that produces low-quality video and audio. Broukhim said he wants to create a more effective livestream to make meetings fully accessible. 

The issue, however, is not the quality of the livestream, said Luong, a member of the internal vice president office and a third-year communication student. People are more engaged through office hours, which she plans to hold frequently, she said. 

Broukhim said students did not come to his office hours and have been more engaged over Zoom, adding that he wants to maintain digital accessibility even when students return to campus. 

Each candidate voiced doubts over the other’s special project. Broukhim said that Luong’s plan to stabilize rent for students living in Westwood apartments is unachievable, while his plan to implement charging stations across campus is more feasible. 

“The city can’t accomplish it, the state can’t accomplish it, I can’t understand how USAC will solve it,” he said. 

Luong said that though her plan is more ambitious, it addresses a real problem, unlike Broukhim’s plan. 

“It doesn’t solve a student need,” she said. “Students are facing an academic inequality because they can’t afford laptops, not because they can’t find places to charge them.”

Voting for the 2020 USAC election will open Monday on MyUCLA and run through May 8.

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Samantha Fredberg
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