The six Undergraduate Student Government presidential slates squared off to distinguish themselves in the largest presidential ballot in about a decade.
The USG judicial panel held a debate between campaigns at the Ohio Union Tuesday night.
Candidates outlined their policy ideas to the audience after a moderator asked them to address topics like affordability and campus safety.
Those two topics brought the most lively input from candidates, all of whom had differing perspectives on how to improve them.
Presidential candidates Celia Wright and Josh Ahart advocated for further implementation of the LifeLine Response EDU app, a personal safety mobile app, which USG offered free to some students earlier this year.
Mohamad Mohamad, another presidential candidate who is a third-year in chemical engineering and engineering physics and does not officially hold a position in USG this year, said the off-campus area should have more campus emergency blue lights. The lights are located around OSU’s campus and have phones providing a direct line to University Police in case of an emergency.
When it came to affordability, candidates largely acknowledged the limited capacity of USG to influence high-level tuition decisions, but many believed USG should advocate for more scholarships.
Candidates, though, did not agree about the role USG should play in university decision making.
Presidential candidate Ryan Hedrick criticized current USG President Taylor Stepp’s administration for not fighting more aggressively for students, saying that USG’s role should be to advocate for students.
To that, current Vice President Ahart, a fourth-year in public affairs, rebuked an aggressive approach as ineffective.
“You sometimes have to make tough decisions, but that’s what leadership is,” he said.
Wright agreed with the approach of working with the university, especially with newly appointed OSU President Dr. Michael Drake, who is set to start June 30.
“We realize that as student government’s leaders, we’re going to have to be flexible and diplomatic in building relationships,” she said.
Some candidates said they think more work needs to be done to address mental health issues on campus.
Wright’s runningmate Leah Lacure voiced criticism of Ahart’s role in the current USG administration.
“As president and vice president, you have an enormous voice. You have weekly lunches with Dr. J, so we have to wonder, why these things haven’t been done before?” she said, referring to regular meetings Stepp and Ahart have with Vice President for Student Life Javaune Adams-Gaston.
Wright, a third-year in public health and the USG senior internal affairs director, said that’s an area she and Lacure, a third-year in public affairs and the USG deputy chief of staff, would like to improve.
“Shared governance is of great importance to Leah and I, but it’s an area where in USG we’ve really had an issue and been lacking for the last year. The General Assembly for the last year has been highly ineffective, and we’re extremely disappointed with that,” Wright said.
Ahart serves as the current speaker of the USG General Assembly.
Vytas Aukstuolis, another presidential hopeful, took aim at Hedrick’s policy idea to introduce a “puppy room” on campus with the goal of reducing stress for students.
“While Mr. Hedrick wants to spend his time taking care of dogs, I want to spend my time taking care of the undergraduate students here,” said Aukstuolis, a third-year in public affairs who is not currently involved with USG.
Andrew Warnecke, a third-year in political science who is not currently involved in USG, is the sixth presidential candidate, running with Logan Recker.
Eric Bloomfield, a first-year in economics, attended the event and expressed skepticism about the process afterward.
“The fact that there’s only three undecided voters in this whole auditorium shows that USG is a massively insular organization that doesn’t actually meet the needs of students,” he said.
His “three undecided voters” remark was a reference to a moment at the beginning of the debate where moderator Herb Asher, OSU’s senior vice president for Government Affairs and counselor to the president, asked who among the audience was truly undecided – and only three hands were raised.
Derek Bergman, a second-year in economics, said the candidates’ performances were lackluster.
“Very few of them ever actually gave specifics. None of them were truly awe-inspiring,” he said. “Looking at those who are currently in USG, they were talking about their legislation, but did it actually do anything?”
Sam Reed, a first-year in environmental science, said he was disappointed candidates didn’t address environmental issues in the debate.
“There wasn’t anything focusing on sustainability,” he said. “I think the closest thing we got to sustainability was one of the candidates mentioned the word ‘efficiency’ once.”
Voting is set to take place from March 3 to 5.