By Staff —
U of L’s Student Government Administration has an unprecedented number of nominees running in the 2017 elections. SGA Chief of Staff Jacob Abrahamson attributes the uptick to eased access for applications, state and national politics, outreach to recognized student organizations and shortened spending for some positions.
“The positive result of it all is that students are more engaged and want to be in Top Four to work on these issues,” Abrahamson said.
Analyzing the debate, survey questions and face-to-face interviews with candidates, the Cardinal endorsed Vishnu Tirumala for SGA President by majority rule. Additionally, after Tirumala’s Q&A, staff give explanations for who they personally endorsed.
Amidst accreditation concerns, administration vacancies and budget cuts, U of L students are about to elect a SGA president who will play an integral role in representing students during the process of fixing the issues the university faces. It is important that this individual represents the diverse student population, as well as advocates for the rights of students. Based on his platform, Vishnu Tirumala is the right candidate to do that.
Tirumala has been involved with SGA since his freshman year and has the experience to lead U of L student government. His experience at U of L, including working as a RA, has given him insight into the issues students face and the concerns they have regarding the administration. Tirumala will be able to use this experience to represent students’ voices while working with the administration, foundation and the presidential search committee.
Additionally, Tirumala is dedicated to creating a more inclusive and collaborative campus.
“There is a lot of separation between different entities in U of L … they kind of each do their own thing and then you have a lot of overlap. It’s very inefficient,” Tirumala said.
As a part of his platform, Tirumala plans to create a liaison system that would integrate into student senate. This system would ensure that RSOs, communities and other organizations have representation in SGA.
Tirumala also plans to continue to fight for student representation on the foundation board. Current SGA President Aaron Vance has advocated for a student spot on the board, and Tirumala considers this an important issue to continue advocating for.
For U of L to move forward, and repair its broken systems, we need an SGA president who understands how the university operates and the issues that students face. Tirumala is the perfect candidate for this job.
Tirumala discusses his platform and goals more in-depth in a Q&A interview. A transcript of the interview is below.
Editor’s note: This endorsement reflects the opinion of the majority of The Louisville Cardinal staff. The staff met with each SGA President candidate for an interview. The following is our interview with Vishnu Tirumala. The answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Endorsement Q & A with Tirumala
TLC: Start by telling us a little bit about yourself.
VT: I am a junior political science and philosophy major. I’m from Corbin, Kentucky … about an hour south of Lexington and an hour north of Tennessee.
TLC: Why are you running for this position?
VT: I’ve been involved with student government in some form or fashion, pretty much my whole time here. I was a Task Force Freshmen, A&S Senator, appropriations chair and now I’m the ELSB operations director. I’ve been able to help out in different parts of student government, and this is a big year for the university. We’re starting the search for a new university president, a new CFO, new provost. We’re in the ACC, we’re doing big things. I feel like I’m experienced and have the skills to be able to help channel the student voice so that way it is constructive and we have a good pivot.
When Ramsey got here in 2007, a lot of people considered U of L a commuter school. And clearly now, I don’t think we are. We do have a lot of commuter students and that’s fine, but we’re also a lot more established and a lot more people on the engineer campus. Our athletics have improved, our grades have improved, we get bigger, smart classes every year. Now that we are selecting a new university president, I think it’s time for U of L students to start thinking big. We have a lot of good ideas on how we can do that and I think I’d be the best person for the job.
TLC: You are running with Sarah Love. Why Love, and why are you running with someone as opposed to running alone?
VT: Ultimately I know there is one thing I’ve learned from SGA and being an RA, you can’t really do stuff on your own. You can do a lot of things on your own, but your scale is really limited. So when you’re looking to do things on a larger scale you need a team. You want more people, and if given the option to pick someone who I will work with rather not picking someone, I’d obviously rather have someone who I have a good relationship with. That’s why I picked Sarah.
One of the reasons is because she and I get along pretty well. I’ve been friends with her since we were freshmen. We were both on Freshmen A & S Council together and we’ve been friends pretty much throughout.
She did some stuff with student government freshmen year, and she kind of stepped back from it to focus on some other stuff. She does stuff with Teach for America, she’s our campus coordinator, and she’s got a good outside perspective. Being in SGA for so long, it is good to have someone who is not necessarily in this bubble who can be like, “That is something we can think about from a different perspective.” With that, I thought she was a pretty good pick, and we are pretty good team. And we’re on pretty much the same wavelength on how we want to deal with issues and how we want to approach student government and different organizations.
TLC: What is the greatest problem facing U of L right now?
VT: This is something that I’ve noticed pretty much throughout my career here at U of L, that there is a lot of separation between different entities in U of L. For example, I was an RA and when you’re in housing, you kind of just do housing things. But housing, SGA and other organizations, a lot of stuff that they do is similar. They reach out to students, provide events and stuff like that. So it would make sense for those two or three organizations to work together. But they don’t, they kind of each do their own thing and then you have a lot of overlap. It’s very inefficient.
And this applies to other things, you can also deal with communities within U of L. Sometimes you get the sense that Greek organizations are very distant from other organizations. You get the sense that commuters don’t feel that included. Students with disabilities don’t feel that included. So it’s a matter of how can we make all of these people feel like they have a voice within student government in some form or fashion? And that’s something I’m hoping to address.
Some people have suggested expanding the senate. I’m not sure about that because ultimately to get in the senate you have to win an election. And winning an election can be hard. Say you expand the senate. Is a commuter student about to run for student senate? It’s kind of unlikely.
What we are thinking about is having a liaison system. The liaison system would have specific communities and anyone else who wants to be involved, and we’re like, “Okay, we want these people to feel like they have a voice and we want someone who can be like a point person or like an ambassador.” We would appoint someone or whoever is interested. That could mean Greek life, that could mean housing like RAs, that could mean student workers, which I hope to do a lot for in terms of advocacy. That could mean commuters, off-campus residence, veterans, students with disabilities. Ultimately, we want someone within those communities that feel like they have a stake in SGA, because sometimes if they see me, if they someone else in student government, they may not feel like that. Because, I mean, I’m able-bodied, I’m in Greek life, so forth, so they may not feel that connection. We want someone who does feel that connection and feel like they represent them. And how we select them will vary.
That’s just one way to bring people together, another way we can empower RSOs, and coordinate transition amongst RSOs. Ultimately there is a sense of trying to consolidate people, consolidate entities, make the university more efficient and ultimately make it a really great place to live, work, learn.
TLC: Aaron Vance has been fighting for the student spot on the foundation board. Is this a fight you will continue?
VT: One real big thing is accountability. A lot of people think of student government as a way to step up for the administration or a way to lead a movement or whatever, but a good way to look at it is advocacy. A lot of what we are doing is just advocating.
We have some money we can use, but we can’t pass laws, we’re not like a police force, we can’t govern that way, but we can advocate. And that’s something I think we can scale up on. So that means advocating, like we’ve seen with Vance, to the governor to some degree and the administration, but definitely the foundation.
A foundation seat is definitely the next step. I think that the fact that the University Pointe was constructed and it seems like not too much student consultation was going on. If anything, it seems like stuff happened against what students were wanting. That’s 100 percent ridiculous. It should not be happening and the foundation should not be doing that without consulting people who are here. Another thing is accountability in terms of housing around us. Housing on or around campus can be problematic. We’ve heard about shootings not too far from where I live, the Retreat. In January, the Prov’s gates were wide open for a few days, just open. One of my friends, this week her car got stolen right in front of the Nine. So there are these things that are not good things. In some way, I think SGA could advocate for students there as well. Not only on campus, but advocate for people in the community in terms of private companies, landlords, we’d like to setup a housing review database just to tell people, “Hey, students are here, they are trying to focus on education, and we are here to make sure their interests are protected as well.”
TLC: If elected, you would be on the interview panels for president and provost. What are qualities you look for in those roles?
VT: Ultimately, we want someone who understands our campus. We’re a unique university, we literally have a unique structure. When the new housing director was hired, Julie Webber, she came and was like, “I think U of L has the most complex housing system in America.” No other campus does it like we do where we have off campus properties and then on campus properties that are owned by a private company and contracted companies and affiliated properties and non-affiliated properties that are next to us. We have so much stuff – it is like a huge thing. We need someone who understands that to some degree. That doesn’t mean they have to be an internal hire, but they have to appreciate how that works and know what they are getting into.
Then we also want someone who respects student input, respects student organizations and values that. And definitely someone who appreciates our diversity and what the student government has to bring, and also obviously the faculty and staff and the entire community. Someone who would understand those things.
When we are selecting a committee, like a student committee, on selecting this president, I would want to make sure this committee represents all of campus. If any student feels like they have something they want to say on how the next president is selected, I’ll hear them. If I can hear them personally, I’ll hear them. I want to make sure their voice is definitely heard.
TLC: Vance has worked pretty closely with other institutions to advocate for higher education, what do you plan to do on that front?
VT: So definitely that was something great. I was at the rally for higher education in Frankfort the other day. While we were there, I met some leaders from other campuses, some candidates who are actually running right now, and I’ve met some before in previous conferences, so that is something we can definitely continue.
There is a sense that we are all in this together. Anything that affects U of L also affects UK, Morehead, Western, so forth, so we want to make sure all of our institutions are as much on the same page as we can. We’re not going to agree on everything, we’ve got different students, different needs, different communities we’re living in, but it was great to see all the other university presidents back us on accreditation issues with SACS. It was great to see us partner in terms of the DACA letter, on deportation of residence. So that was something that was good to see. And I think that is something I would like to continue seeing.
It’s also time to see that in a different way, not just Kentucky but we’re apart of the ACC and the ACC is a power conference. We need to start working together within the ACC, with Duke, with North Carolina, with Virginia. Making sure those schools are also working with us. You see conferences like the Big 10, their student body presidents have a board of student body presidents, and the ACC doesn’t really have that framework right now. I know Vance is working on it and I would try to make sure that’s finished. Then try to make sure the ACC has their own student assembly so that we advocate for our students. Even though we are in different states, we still face similar challenges. Like North Carolina, and maybe NC State as well, also had challenges with their accreditation and their board of trustees recently. So that’s something we would want to continue. Something that is happening in Kentucky, but something that is also happening nationally.
Kyeland Jackson, Editor-in-Chief – Vishnu Tirumala
I endorse Tirumala because he’s experienced, insightful and has achievable plans to bring into the office. Tirumala has served multiple roles within SGA and student organizations, lending him experience on how to approach resolutions and orders and how best to use presidential powers. He recognizes legal results for orders and initiatives, such as sheltering students affected by President Donald Trump’s immigration orders, and counters them with plans to hire legal counsel and political advisers. Experience in Frankfort lends him knowledge on who to contact and how, giving him an edge on the university’s accreditation woes.
The student also seems grounded in the community, mentioning involvement in Jalsa, diversity initiatives and the impact of Trump’s immigration orders closely affecting him.
While I worry overwhelming political and professional involvement may distance him from students, I believe Tirumala would reach out for students’ input and represent their voices professionally and efficiently. For that, Tirumala gets my vote.
Brooke Moody, Assistant Editor-in-Chief – Jonas Bastien
Personally, I endorse Bastien based on the priorities of his platform and past experience which will enable him to implement impactful changes.
As the assistant to the SGA President, Bastien gained crucial knowledge of the workings of SGA and the university administration. This knowledge will be important over the next year as the university searches for a new president and continues to face accreditation concerns from SACS.
Additionally, Bastien’s platform focuses on uniting the university community during a time when divisiveness is high. He advocates for students’ rights to inclusive spaces, diverse dining options and funding for multicultural RSOs.
Shelby Brown, News Editor – Vishnu Tirumala
I endorsed Tirumala because of his desire to incorporate the voice of students in the upcoming administration. I think he has excellent qualifications both on campus and in Frankfort. He can bring his advocating skills to the table and connections he may have from his internship.
Tirumala cited step-by-step plans during the debate and answered questions clearly and concisely which I admire in any candidate running for office. I appreciate that he has ideas to help our international students in light of the immigration orders. Most importantly, Tirumala can be an advocate for the voice of all students as he said in the debate that he wants to promote more welcoming and diverse cultural events on campus.
Tirumala demonstrated a calm, collected temperament during the debate that I don’t see in many politicians anymore. I think in times volatile as these, an administration that responds and doesn’t react is imperative.
Tirumala has plans that can be implemented with the help of his EVP, Sarah Love. I think they would be an excellent, cohesive team.
Briana Williams, Features Editor – Vishnu Tirumala
I endorsed Tirumala based on his extensive history within SGA and his commitment to serving U of L. As a heavily involved student, with ties to multiple student organizations and an active presence on campus, I believe Tirumala is not only knowledgeable on SGA processes, I also believe he’s dedicated to serving the best interests of students.
Dalton Ray, Sports Editor – X’Zashea Lawson-Mayes
Away from SGA involvement, Lawson looks to make a change. Without connections and through personal drive, Lawson made contributions in several events that looked to improve student life and involvement. Lawson has seen behind the scenes of SGA and SAB, giving her a perspective that allows her to judge situations from both sides.
Aside from her past accomplishments, Lawson’s future plans appear to address to not only the big picture issues, but the smaller issues on campus that may have been looked over. While accreditation may be the biggest issue, Lawson is aware of the problems facing students’ day-to-day life and wants to address that. Many of her ideas and resolutions hit the casual student, like myself. Lawson is a student first, so her views come from that perspective. Even if Lawson doesn’t win, expect her to continue striving to make a difference on campus.
Olivia Krauth, Copy Editor – Jonas Bastien
Simply, I endorsed Bastien for the reasons Moody listed.
Deeper than that, Bastien embodies the things he stands for in his campaign. His ideas aren’t just a platform or shallow offers to win over votes – this is his life; these are things he has deep experience in and has been fighting for throughout his time at U of L. This is reflected in his support from the Latin American and Hispanic Student Organization and the Muslim Student Association, two groups deeply affected by the current political climate.
I’m not looking for empty campaign promises. I’m looking for someone who fully understands the treacherous situation U of L is in, with limited permanent leaders and serious accreditation risks. With presidential and provost searches happening during their term, I’m looking for someone who understands their decisions will impact U of L for years after they graduate. Serving a year as assistant to SGA President, Bastien has the first-hand knowledge of the university and state level issues affecting U of L.
After covering its affairs – from sombreros to presidential resignations – for four years, I realize U of L doesn’t need more politics or confusion. It needs action, inclusion and transparency. I firmly believe Bastien is best suited for that role in this crucial time in U of L’s history.