what a mess!

(Before you read this, read the entirety of Chip’s post below and Sarika’s comment. They are a lot more important, and I’m a bit embarrased at my interest in relatively frivolous things like UC debates in comparison to World AIDs Day.)

I just got back from the UC debate. What a bloody mess. The post is a little bit ramble-y, and please forgive any small errors. But a few impressions… The candidates were unimpressive, the moderators were funny and mean, and I’m not sure anyone left feeling like they had any clue what was going on.(more in expanded post)

On presentation, Grimeland and Hadfield won the night. They both came off as competent and intelligent, and Magnus got plenty of laughs (most of which he intended to get). Annie was also composed and graceful, although she had almost no time to speak. Haddock came off as knowledgeable and competent, but he spoke about two times as fast as he should have and constantly thanked people for their “great questions” in a way that came of as a little insincere. I think someone gave Voith a horse tranquilizer before the debate started, he seemed confused and bored, and Gadgil kept saying how excited and happy she was but never cracked a smile. Point under dogs.

On the substance of their ideas, unfortunately, the under dogs either had no ideas or ideas from Mars. Q: “How exactly are you going to raise 10 million dollars?” A: “People will give it to us.” Alumni are apparently waiting with baited breath to through tons of money at a 20 year old organization that is still coming to terms with how it handles and distributes money. Q: What do you think about the Council’s role in social programming? A: Maybe they should do this, but on the other hand maybe they should do that… we want to reform the UC!”, but apparently aren’t willing to articulate what that reform would actually look like.

Substantively, Haddock won the debate but just barely. Haddock came off as knowledgeable but occasionally fell into meaningless platitudes and defended his support for ending student involvement in social planning clearly but unpersuasively (although I’m biased). Voith had a good line, “I think the UC should be more than a bank”, but never really explained what that meant (he should have, I agree). When he woke up from his stupor he was good in terms of defending the UC’s involvement in social life but didn’t really explain what he wanted. Worst, he was terrible in defending his own complicity in a series of CLC failures.

Finally, the general tone of the debate was pretty mean-spirited and substanceless. Some of the questions were good and provocative (and even funny), but crossed a line into mean that flustered the candidates and created a weird dynamic of undirected and strange animosity. In offering opportunities to the candidates to ask each other questions, the moderators continually said something like “it’s your turn to take a pop-shot at so-and-so!” That was a far too accurate description of what was going on…

In general, I was entertained but disappointed by the whole thing. At a time in which serious things are being discussed (well, serious in this context…), I didn’t feel like anyone attending actually understood the ideas being forwarded, I didn’t feel like any of the candidates did any sort of job articulating and defending their positions, neither they nor the moderators seemed prepared for the event (the moderators have the excuse of being asked too late, unclear about the candidates), and no one engaged each other in actual dialogue. Here’s to hoping we can do something here tomorrow that didn’t happen at the debate tonight…
Please remember CC’s policy on anonymous comments related to the UC campaigns.

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11 responses to “what a mess!

  1. Neeraj "Richie" Banerji

    Representatives of the Crimson’s EdBoard protested the little “dialogue” that took place at all.

  2. Yeah, I definitely feel that the moderators overdid it with the questioning. It’s one thing to be provocative or controversial but it’s another thing to just attack people when you’re supposed to be a MODERATor and therefore neutral.

    I hope that people don’t confuse Magnus’ non-Shakespearian grasp of English with his lack of intelligence. Nevertheless, we’re at Harvard so people inevitably will. I’m always a fan of the underdog but I feel in a situation like this having almost NO experience on the council may be too big a political hurdle to overcome. His vagueness on why he missed a number of UC meetings this semester didn’t help (I’m convinced he’s an assassin for the Norweigan army).

    Haddock did come off well and polished tonight. He seemed to have the best composure of the three Presidential candidates and was able to best articulate ([possibly] insincere commendations on questioning aside) his vision without sounding repetitive or avoiding the question. It looks like he prepared best for the debate and it showed.

    Voith definitely seemed bored tonight and was flabbergasted on a number of questions (including the one about final clubs). Despite what he believes, they are NOT regular student groups. BMF doesn’t have a mansion. PBHA doesn’t have a competitive entrance process that involves lots of free liquor. WHRB isn’t overseen by an alumni board that has more control over it than the current undergrad members (even President). Also, Voith needed to defend his CLC performance which is potent ammunition for the other tickets to spew. He didn’t.

    The VPs had way too little time (about 15 minutes by my watch) to speak. Each candidate seemed articulate but each candidate also seemed to largely use their time to laud their Presidential running mate instead of defend their platform or (perhaps more excitingly) attack their competition. I see the Presidential candidates and their personalities, campaigning vigor, and endorsements winning this election, not VPs.

    Something else that popped in my mind about this was attendance. The small auditorium in the Science Center was more than enough space to accomadate the roughly 100-150 students that came out tonight. That’s only about 2% percent of the entire undergraduate student body that came out to what may be their best opportunity to gain information about the candidates and see them speak about their platforms in person and under pressure (which they will face to a much larger magnitude as UC Prez). What does that say about student government at Harvard and the connection students feel to their purportedly representative “government”? Hmmm…

  3. Neeraj "Richie" Banerji

    ^ Dude above, you didn’t sign your comment. Golis is gonna pull you off.

  4. To Richie (and others):

    My problem with the moderation was that the questions asked were not issues-based. Instead they devolved into personal questions like John Voith’s membership in a final club, Tara Gadgil’s choice not to run for President, and Magnus Grimeland’s expulsion from the UC (even though he was back in Norway for Special Forces training and everyone knows that).

    Furthermore, the questions were extremely leading, and the moderators did not give the candidates time to work out their answers before interrupting them. I’d quote one of the moderators, who lectured Magnus on what was really important (“getting buy-in from the student body for social events,” or something like that). Or I’d quote one of the moderators who asked Voith a minute-long question on a student center, with multiple points at which the moderator injected his own personal views into the question.

    These were not questions culled from the student body in an unbiased manner. Or, if they were, then they were not asked in an unbiased, professional manner. Thus, this debate was a circus the revolved around personal aspects instead of real issues. Why didn’t one of the moderators ask Haddock about McLaughlin’s refusal to take a bigger role in social planning, or Magnus about the details of his $10M student endowment package? In fact, these were questions that the candidates asked each other because they were conspicuously left unasked by the moderators.

    Finally, I think it was perfectly appropriate to mention Cambridge Common and Team Zebra at the end of the debate. As should be obvious from the length of my post, I find these sites engaging. Nevertheless, my objection was to the portrayal of The Crimson as a media monopoly.

    Richie, I came and complained to you in confidence as a friend. That you have mocked my legitimate complaints only lowers your stature as a journalist and as a moderator in my eyes.

  5. Neeraj "Richie" Banerji

    Slack, I mocked the fact that you and a compadre from the EdBoard thought we should have let wayward meaningless answers from candidates be as fluffy as they wanted. You didn’t complain so much as read both moderators a litany of unreasonable comments on the debate, our conduct (the other moderator was not listening because he thought you were being irrelevant), and so I most certainly did not think of it as friendly input. Especially when your compadre showed up.

    I can tell you from my bird’s-eye-view on the situation that not a single candidate was interrupted until at least half their speaking time was over. Watch the video. If that’s not enough time to come to the point, I don’t know what is.

    The questions as framed were often being read out verbatim, actually, (after being composed by a large group of what were, I assume, neutral people with UC, EC and non-UC/EC backgrounds – ask the EC for deets) and were intended to be a little personal, and a little issues-based. Such stuff is often hard to judge on paper and I’m sure tones of voices and other tensions from the time can make certain “biases” seem to appear. Anyway, at this point I have been called both a VoithGadgil supporter and a HaddockRiley supporter, perhaps MagnusAndTom are next.

    I’m done.

  6. It also seems a bit strange to call the Crimson a media monopoly when this blog declined to publish the Isis emails, or the AD club emails, before the Crimson would. But that’s certainly a topic for another day.

  7. Many apologies, I had to delete a really good comment that wasn’t signed. I hope the person will post it again. If the writer doesn’t have a copy and would like one so that they can repost it under their name you can email me (golis@fas).

  8. Brief impressions:

    As a UC debate newbie (and thus bereft of a basis of comparison), it seemed like the moderators tried to be edgy and sassy, perhaps in an attempt to make the debate seem more accessible or relatable or something, but just made it harder to take the candidates (and by extension, the UC) seriously.

    I thought the final club question directed at Voith was fair because it pertained to his Women’s Center advocacy, but the moderator’s smug tone made it seem like a cheap shot.

    I admit that I don’t understand the CLC, social planning, “SAC-centric” issues (if someone could break down the specific roles of the various committees as they now stand, with examples of what they work on that UC-ignorant students like me could easily recognize, that would be helpful). So that stuff was mostly over my head, which is partly my fault for not doing my homework better and partly the candidates’ for not spelling it out.

    What did make my ears perk up were two points Haddock made: cutting costs of living for low-income students, and (he mentioned this in passing as one of Annie’s goals) increasing access for disabled people on campus. While I have no idea whether he can actually make good on promises to address these issues (again, I don’t know how all this stuff works), bringing these ideas to the forefront is important unto itself. It also demonstrated an ability to think creatively about problems not readily visible to major student groups or voting blocs. I’ve rarely heard anyone, UC-affiliated or otherwise, discuss disabled inaccessability at Harvard.

  9. I agree with Jersey Slugger that Haddock was the best-prepared for the debate. Voith should have had some quip or otherwise disarming answer ready for the inevitable question about CLC failures. I think it’s revealing that Haddock approached this seriously and thoroughly (he had a debate prep team) despite the expected low turnout. The only question he really dodged was Magnus’ about the “real life experiences.”

    I didn’t think that Haddock spoke noticeably fast. The speed didn’t come even close to approaching Greg Schmidt’s clip at the Dems election last year ;). I thought at first Haddock was too close to the microphone, which gave the amplification of his voice a tinny quality, but this was corrected later.

    Voith’s answer to any CLC criticism was “Pep Rally.” Honestly, this is getting to be like “9/11” for President Bush. Sure, the Pep Rally brought thousands of us out to the Yard, but it was a one-time event, and it wasn’t even that exciting. This is Harvard, so it would be unreasonable to expect that monthly Pep Rallies could be successful, for example. I just don’t know what they’re getting at by continuously bringing it up. One pep rally does not make up for semesters of Springfest Afterparty and Booze Cruise.

    I thought the moderators were pretty outrageous, but they were equally sharp-tongued to everyone. I appreciated their efforts to insist that all questions were answered. I thought that forcing Tara to spend so much time defending the configuration of her ticket, though, was particularly inappropriate.

    I don’t think any of the candidates came across as *inspiring*, but that could be expecting a bit much from six exhausted individuals. Annie somehow managed to be bursting with excitement. John’s earnestness really came across, plus he fleshed out his proposals with plenty of details. I don’t know what else an observer would want from a candidate, especially considering the circus-like atmosphere of the debate.

    Finally, I’d like to point out that my roommate Josh was also hosted as a prefrosh by Magnus, and he doesn’t remember Tom :P

    -Ben Milder

  10. I agree with you, Andrew (hey, we’ll take what agreement we can get, right?)

    There is a hilarious but sadly accurate summary of the debate available at Team Zebra that Aaron Chadbourne wrote. You can read it here:

    http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~gschmidt/Blog/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=75

  11. To Ben regarding the fairness of Tara’s questions. The first question explored her thoughts on the recent SAC chair-to-UC president power progression. We were wondering why she chose to run for VP. Fair enough?

    The second question was actually a bit of a softball question allowing Tara to establish her position as a women’s advocate, particularly within the Harvard/Summers context. Basically the question was for her to air her thoughts about the status of women in leadership, particularly in the context of UC president. As tickets have settled in the past few years into a male president and female VP tradition, we wanted her to talk about why women might or might not go for the highest spots of power.

    Unfortunately, she chose to take the time to endorse her runningmate’s merits as a presidential candidate.

    As for cambridgecommon, keep fighting the good fight! Even though it seems Chip may be a bit of a pinko, this alternative voice is badly needed in campus discussion.

    As is the Independent. Read the Independent.

    – Steve Lee

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