Student Council Presidential Candidates Discuss Campus Issues in WPAA Debate

Facing each other for the first time to discuss campaign issues and plans pertinent to the upcoming elections, the final six presidential candidates shared their views with the Phillips Academy community during a live broadcast debate held this past Monday on the WPAA airwaves. Student Council President Kanyi Maqubela ’03 moderated the debate, which featured a series of questions determined by Maqubela as well as several inquiries called in by other students. Candidates also took the opportunity to present brief opening and closing statements, most of which focused on thanking their supporters. Candidates showed little variation in their responses to the topics presented in Monday’s debate, as only a few views or plans deviated from those put forth by their peers. The Student Council’s Committee for Constitutional Compliance was the subject of a heated debate between the candidates. Under the leadership of Stephen Zehring ’03, the Committee came under fire earlier this year for dismissing Student Council Vice President Kate Takvorian ’03 because her appointment to the post violated an allegedly arcane clause of the Constitution. Although Takvorian was restored to her original position, the existence of the Committee has remained a point of contention across campus. However, most candidates remained apathetic about the Committee’s often controversial actions. “[The Committee] is an excellent resource,” Sam Levenback ’04 remarked. With the exception of Fan Wang ’04, who questioned the practicality of the committee, Levenback’s peers agreed with him wholeheartedly. The contestants were also united in their overwhelming support of increased communication between the Student Council and the student body. Allegra Asplundh-Smith ’04, the only female of the six candidates, proposed the creation of “a prominent link on PAnet to a comprehensive Student Council web page.” Emphasizing his dedication to personal contact with his constituents, Aaron Stroble ’04 declared, “I am a member of your community.” He then commented on his range of extracurricular activities and sports to highlight areas in which he could establish individual relationships with students. Will Scharf ‘04 and Levenback actively debated the virtues of polls as a method for obtaining student input, while Sam duPont ’04 promoted the use of e-mail as a solution to the communication problem. The candidates also shared their views on solving the ongoing pace of life problem. Surprisingly, some of the candidates did not feel that a Pace of Life problem even exists. Scharf cited a discussion that he held with a member of NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges), who apparently stated that the committee was “unable to find any significant problem, so it recommended an issue that would take us a half decade to figure out.” NEASC is the accrediting agency that first brought the Pace of Life dilemma to the Academy’s attention. While duPont shared Scharf’s sentiments, the other candidates had more constructive views on how to reduce the stress placed on Andover students by academic work, athletic participation, and extracurricular activities. “Students should regulate their own pace of life,” Stroble said. “If they are unhappy, there should be more active student disagreement.” Asplundh-Smith agreed with Stroble that faculty and administration should have no place in making important decisions regarding afternoons and weekends. “[The faculty] doesn’t value down time enough,” she said. Another topic broached by candidates was based on the annual “State of the Academy” Phillipian survey, in which the majority of students reported a growing rift between faculty and students. Monday’s debate gave a clear indication that the next Student Council President will make attempts to remedy this problem. “The relations between the faculty and students are a critical problem facing Phillips Academy,” Levenback said. However, despite their almost universal agreement that relations within the Andover community are flawed, each candidate had his or her own specific plan to fix the situation. Stroble proposed one of the more innovative of those plans, whereby the Student Council would “formalize the unformalized” and create a standardized procedure for the way in which faculty deal with student initiated proposals. Candidates also expressed their desires to reform the Discipline Committee (DC) system. After spending the past year as West Quad North DC representative, Levenback gave a unique perspective on the issue, proposing a “precedent” system to create a more unified system. Scharf took Levenback’s idea one step further by presenting a centralized DC system that would avoid the discrepancies in discipline that are known to appear between clusters. Stroble, however, appeared confident in the current system, stating that the Academy’s position as a “second chance school” gives students “something to hold on to.”