On Mar. 11, executive-race victors Jack Zwald and Previn Witana will begin addressing student concerns as they assume their new roles as ASUCD president and vice president.
Current ASUCD President Joe Chatham and Vice President Chris Dietrich are expected to present certificates of election to Zwald and Witana at the beginning of the last ASUCD Senate meeting of the quarter.
Running under the Leadership, Empowerment, Activism and Determination slate in the recent winter 2010 ASUCD election, Zwald and Witana secured a win for the presidency by a margin of 3.6 percent, beating out close competition by JAM’s Sergio Blanco and Vishakha Patel. Of the 3,452 ballots cast for the presidential election, the LEAD ticket received 1,678 – or 51.8 percent of the vote – while the JAM ticket garnered 48.2 percent.
With the elections over, the pair pledged to remain true to the platforms they ran on.
“We made promises and we’ll remember them,” Zwald said. “We haven’t forgotten what we told students we would do for them.”
Zwald, a junior international relations major, and Witana, a senior cell biology major, are looking toward the future and are set to meet with incumbents Chatham and Dietrich as their transitional period nears an end.
Aside from their campaign stance, Zwald and Witana seek to bring institutional reform to ASUCD student government in hopes of achieving greater accountability of its elected officials.
“We can talk a good game,” Witana said. “But we also want to [play] a good game. We want to bring some good feelings back to this institution and give students more hope and trust in their [student] government.”
Upon taking office, the pair is poised to get straight to work.
One of their primary platforms during the campaign was to increase student retention rates. An integral way they intend to accomplish that is through a reduction in minimum progress requirements from 13 to 12 units.
According to Zwald, UC Davis used to have a minimum progress threshold of 12 units in place until 2006 when the policy was changed. Hoping for tangible achievements on this priority by next fall, Zwald and Witana will be meeting with Fred Wood, vice chancellor of student affairs, and Patricia Turner, vice provost of undergraduate studies, this Friday.
Another method that Zwald and Witana hope will ensure students remain at UC Davis is their expansion of tutoring programs. They are both seeking to acquire corporate sponsorships to help fund the services provided by the Learning Language Center, as well as searching for faculty and administrators to participate in their opt-in volunteer tutoring program.
Other priorities include eliminating budget waste through telecommunication reform, protecting the environment by revamping the inefficient sprinkler system, maximizing entertainment options with concerts and movie screenings on the quad, attaining UC Student Association (UCSA) privileges without UCSA membership and increasing budget transparency.
However, despite the executive team’s concrete plans for their term, some still have concerns about their approach to the job.
Sophomore managerial economics major Leslie Liao weighed in on the feasibility and value of some of Zwald and Witana’s goals.
“The reduction from 13 to 12 units is a great idea,” Liao said. “Some of these one-unit classes throw a curveball into the organization of your schedule, [while] another four-unit class can be too much. That’s something I can support.”
However, Liao questioned how many more of their promises will come to fruition.
“It’s commonplace in politics to make promises you can’t achieve,” he said. “It feels like some of these proposed policies were just shotgunned out in an attempt to pull more votes instead of actually [developing] a workable agenda.”
Liao’s primary concern was that the executive office would focus too much of their attention and resources on problems that were either not easily fixable or that should be lower in priority, such as entertainment, preservation of the MU games area and environmental stewardship.
Another of Liao’s criticisms was that pouring energy into the ASUCD university affairs unit in an attempt to reopen constructive dialogue between the UC regents and students would be counterproductive.
“We already have a dialogue with them,” he said. “Sure, it might voice our concerns in a less hostile voice, but so much depends on [the regents’] willingness to work with us. If they listen, then great. Otherwise, people will get angry, assemble and they’ll protest.”
Nevertheless, Witana remains confident that they will have a successful term, so long as he and Zwald remember whom their job exists to serve.
“We need to do things students care about,” he said. “But you can only put so much Windex on the window. We’re here now and [the students will] tell us if we’re doing a good job or not. The campaign is over, now the hard part starts.”
According to Zwald, they also intend to be accessible through an open door policy in which students can take their concerns directly to either the president or the vice president. That accessibility combined with flexibility, a reasonable amount of work and areas to compensate for new potential challenges is their core approach to the term.
“We want to give students a government they deserve,” Zwald said. “I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t think I’d be the best candidate. I’m trying to look out for the students and I’m just grateful to have opportunity to serve them again.”
KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at email@example.com.