Candidates for Associated Students (A.S.) president faced off Monday over college affordability, campus climate and representation of marginalized communities.
Nawar Nemeh, third-year history of public policy major, is the Isla Vista Party candidate for A.S. president.
Hieu Le, third-year political science major, is the Campus United candidate for A.S. president.
Delivering opening remarks first, Nemeh said his main priority as president would be to implement the “$48 fix,” a proposal to eliminate tuition through a $48 increase in taxes for the median California taxpayer.
“It’s something we can do together, but it’s something that we as a party can’t do without you all,” he said.
Le also remarked on college affordability, saying in his opening remarks that he hopes to have A.S. work with the state legislature to eliminate student debt.
“Additionally, I would like to make an inclusive environment, given what is going on federally, to ensure that all students — whether you lean one way or another — feel included and that your voice is empowered here on campus,” Le said.
Andy Doerr, manager of the A.S. Media Center, moderated the forum. He posed 12 questions, created prior to the debate by the A.S. Elections Board, and gave the candidates one minute each to answer. Doerr also relayed questions asked anonymously by audience members.
Here are the rest of the highlights from Monday’s presidential debate:
- COMMUNITY: Asked to define “community,” Nemeh gave a simple answer: “Isla Vista.” Nemeh said the university, police and Santa Barbara County have not prioritized student needs in their decisions concerning Isla Vista, which he said he hopes to address as president. Le said community is “being a Gaucho,” and he added that he plans to increase career planning services and expand the alumni recruitment network.
- POLICE PRESENCE: Doerr asked the candidates if they felt police presence made the campus safer, to which Nemeh responded, “No.” Nemeh said the campus needs to “reevaluate our relationship with police,” citing an incident in February where a female skateboarder was forcibly detained in the Arbor after she attempted to flee from receiving a ticket. Nemeh advocated instead for what he called “community-based policing.” Le said Nemeh “highlighted the cons” of campus police presence, but he wanted to “highlight the pros.” He said the police departments have made progress in “demilitarizing” their officers, and he cited the “substantial decrease” in the number of arrests at Deltopia this year.
- QUALIFICATIONS: Nemeh said the attribute that uniquely qualifies him for president is his “pre-existing understanding” of A.S., having worked with the student government for the past three years. Le said his qualifying attribute is his “leadership capabilities,” and as president he said he wants to implement a “bottom-up” approach.
- MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES: When asked how he has been an advocate for marginalized communities, Le cited his lobbying experience. He said he wants to empower students of marginalized communities rather than the “top-down” approach of advocating for them In response to the same question, Nemeh cited his work toward implementing the Single Transferrable Vote, which he said makes voting more “equitable” in A.S.
- STUDENT FEES: The first audience question of the day asked the candidates what they will do to ensure fiscal responsibility in light of the fact that UCSB students pay the highest student fees in the UC. Le said he plans to start a program for students to run their own businesses, which he said will create an alternate revenue source for A.S. Nemeh said A.S. needs to prioritize on eliminating tuition rather than reducing student fees.
- CAMPUS + LOCAL: Doerr asked the candidates if they view the position of A.S. president only working on campus issues. Nemeh said the Isla Vista Party wants to work directly with the I.V. Community Services District (CSD) and alongside the student governments of other UC campuses. Le said the president needs to help be present in statewide affairs and in making sure that President Donald Trump does not “encroach on our campus.”
- UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS: The next audience question asked the candidates if they had ever worked with UCSB Undocumented Student Services. Nemeh said he has “not directly” worked with the program, but he hopes to pick a qualified undocumented students services coordinator to work in the Office of the A.S. President. Le cited his experience lobbying to make California a “sanctuary state” and working alongside state legislators to push such legislation.
- CAMPUS CLIMATE: Another audience question asked the candidate to give their thoughts on campus climate in regard to a recent visit from Ben Shapiro and a cancelled visit from Milo Yiannopoulos. Le said he supports freedom of speech “so long that these speakers abide by university conduct and they do not incite harm.” Le also mentioned how he was once a registered Republican in high school and has since switched party affiliations. Nemeh said he does not tolerate “students coming out and attacking other students for their identities,” citing the violence that erupted from Yiannopoulos’s visit to Berkeley in February.
- LEADERSHIP: Asked what is the most important quality of a leader, Le said a leader must be able to listen to the issues of students on campus. Doerr did not pose the same question to Nemeh.
- SPECIAL PROJECTS:Doerr asked each candidate if they planned to undertake any special projects should either of them become president. Nemeh mentioned again the “$48 fix,” but he also said he wants to implement an open-source textbook library. Le cited again his work to eliminate student tuition through the state legislature.
- LEGACY: Asked about the legacy they would want to leave, Le answered that it is not about leaving a legacy but rather about setting up a foundation for future student leaders. “Coming in with the mindset that we have to do everything in one year is not practical and feasible,” he said. Nemeh said he would like to strengthen communication between A.S. and university administration so that everyone is not “trying to reinvent the wheel from the beginning.”
- ANTI-SEMITISM: The last audience question of the day asked the candidates how they plan to address the anti-Semitism on campus that may result from the Israel-Palestine conflict. Le said the campus needs to facilitate “ a civil discourse between Muslim groups on campus and the Jewish organizations.” Nemeh disagreed with Le, saying the Israel-Palestine conflict is not a Muslim-Jewish conflict. “Students who have disagreements with each other on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have it because of political disagreements, not religious ones,” he said.
- FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Doerr asked the candidates to give their stance on the abilities and rights of students to protest. Both candidates said it is a constitutionally protected right. Nemeh said he is a strong supporter of demonstration, which he said helps to produce “new forms of knowledge.” Le said students should be able to express themselves freely and the campus should not be censoring any viewpoints.
- PRIVILEGE: When asked “what does privilege mean to you,” Nemeh recalled being able to move safely back to the U.S. from Syria at the start of the Syrian Civil War. Le recalled being the son of a Vietnamese refugee and the first in his family to attend a university.
- FUN FACT: Le also shared a “fun fact” that he was “born on the 4th of July.”
In each of their closing remarks, both candidates said again that they want to focus on reducing the costs of attending university.
Campaigning for A.S. Elections began 8 p.m. Sunday and will continue for the next two weeks until voting results are announced on the night of Apr. 27.
Profiles of all 51 A.S. candidates can be found here.