The proper role of the Yale College Council was up for discussion Sunday evening, as the candidates in the running to lead Yale’s student government squared off for the sole debate of the campaign season.
The four presidential candidates, along with two of the three vice-presidential candidates, offered competing visions of the body responsible for elevating student voice and working with administrators to improve campus life. Speaking to roughly 60 students in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, the candidates said that beyond the specific promises that distinguish their campaign platforms, the YCC should aim to legitimize itself in the eyes of students and administrators alike. The campus-wide election will take place this Thursday and Friday.
The current relationship between the undergraduate population and Yale’s highest governing body drew criticism during the presidential portion of the debate. Presidential candidates Ben Ackerman ’16 and Sara Miller ’16, a photography editor for the News, agreed that a student should sit as a full member on the Corporation, which currently includes 16 prominent alumni. Ackerman said including a student voice would shift the “decision-making paradigm” of the University.
“What we should be worrying about is whether people are actually able to be the sort of personality who isn’t afraid to sit down with Dean Mary Miller and tell her she’s wrong about something,” said Allison Kolberg ’16, who is running against Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16 and Christopher Moates ’16 for the position of vice president.
In reply, Eliscovich Sigal said representatives should have “respect for administrators.” Still, she said, the YCC should push for greater accessibility to the figures wielding influence over major University decisions. Every time the Yale Corporation meets in New Haven, a YCC representative should have a seat at the table, Eliscovich Sigal said.
Presidential candidate Michael Herbert ’16 said the YCC has to make sure it properly represents the student body before it demands greater input in decision-making.
“When seven out of 12 colleges don’t have contested elections [for college representatives], as happened last fall, there are legitimate concerns about how representative the YCC is,” Herbert said.
Presidential candidate Leah Motzkin ’16 said she would like to change the way the YCC relates to students by sending representatives out to student groups, cultural houses and other loci of student activity.
The YCC has historically expected students to bring their interests and concerns to the Council, Motzkin said, adding, “We need to start coming to you.”
Candidates disagreed about how the YCC President should relate to the rest of the representatives. Herbert, a first-time YCC hopeful who has identified himself as an outsider candidate, said his efforts to convince other students he knows to run alongside him will enable him to work effectively on his agenda, which includes a plan to index the contribution of students on full financial aid to the Consumer Price Index.
This tactic of Herbert’s came under fire, however, as Miller accused Herbert of “creating a body to work with [him]” — a rebuttal that drew approving snaps from audience members.
Candidates agreed that the YCC has been successful in its restructuring efforts this year, which included expanding the Executive Board and increasing oversight of the Undergraduate Organizations Committee (UOC).
Rachel Miller ’15, who attended the debate, said she thought Ackerman — who currently chairs the UOC — emerged victorious from the war of words. Miller was impressed by Ackerman’s overall experience on YCC, she said, pointing particularly to his tenure on the UOC. But, she added, Herbert perhaps “made up the most ground by proving that he wasn’t a total joke candidate.”
Most members of the audience were involved in one of the campaigns. Current YCC President Danny Avraham ’15 declined to name a winner or comment on the substance of the debate, saying only that he thought it was a fruitful discussion.
The candidates touted an assortment of specific goals, from allowing students to fulfill distributional requirements on the credit/D/fail grading scale to ending an internal YCC policy that requires presidential candidates to have attended at least three meetings before running.
Miller emphasized gender-neutral housing and transparent UOC funding as priorities. Herbert criticized the current Council for not speaking out on controversial campus issues such as sexual misconduct and said he would make sure the YCC is attuned to campus culture.
The YCC should not take no for answer, said Ackerman, who promised to work to improve Yale Dining services, including allowing more freedom in meal swipe policies.
Motzkin said she would seek to increase the offerings of Undergraduate Career Services and better connect victims of sexual misconduct with available resources.
Moates, the third vice-presidential candidate, could not attend the debate due to a scheduling conflict.
Connor Feeley ’16 is running unopposed for Finance Director, Jaime Halberstam ’16 for Events Director.
The debate was moderated by Yale Debate Association President Diana Li ’15 and YCC Vice President Kyle Tramonte ’15.