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UA Presidential Debate hosted by the DP Credit: Lin Zheng , Lin Zheng

Sunday afternoon, Penn students had one final opportunity to hear directly from the presidential and vice presidential candidates for the Undergraduate Assembly before student government election voting began at midnight Monday.

At The Daily Pennsylvanian’s annual UA debate, the two presidential candidates — College sophomore Dan Bernick and College junior Jake Shuster — and the three vice presidential candidates — College junior Erich Reimer, Engineering junior Matt Rosenberg and College and Wharton sophomore Abe Sutton — gathered in the Philomathean Halls to discuss the issues of student government.

All five candidates shared common views on what the UA’s top priority should be for the upcoming academic year — fostering a stronger sense of community at Penn by encouraging the cultural, academic, religious and Greek communities to get involved in each other’s initiatives.

The candidates also expressed strong support for the University’s Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence and addressed that continued follow-up on the plan is of great importance.

The two presidential candidates, though, offered different ideas on how progress on faculty diversity recruitment and retention could be accomplished.

Bernick argued that student representatives need to be given spots on the four schools’ faculty diversity committees, while Shuster emphasized expanding the recognition of LGBT faculty.

Tensions ran high when the debate turned to the topic of the recently released results of the UA hazing investigation, in which the UA was found to have violated the University’s alcohol and anti-hazing policies during a new member initiation event this past fall.

“I wasn’t there but I take full responsibility,” Shuster said.

Bernick replied that he “voted against the UA initiation process.” At the debate, he directly asked Shuster to “please [not] insinuate that I hazed freshmen, because I didn’t.”

All five candidates stressed that the incident provided the opportunity to address the larger issue of hazing on campus, as well as to work with the Office of Student Affairs to create non-hazing initiation processes that are safe and fun.

Despite the general decorum the candidates displayed during the debate, the question of who is more qualified to lead ignited a series of personal attacks.

Specifically, Sutton and Rosenberg argued over who had more leadership experience.

In response to College junior and UA Student Life Committee Director Jon Monfred’s question about the tone of the campaigns so far, Sutton, Reimer and Rosenberg agreed that the vice presidential race has been collaborative and friendly in nature.

The presidential candidates, however, disagreed with each other.

“My campaign has been positive so far about the potential for change in the UA,” Bernick said. He briefly mentioned a March 22 blog post on IvyGate that accused Shuster of plagiarizing the campaign of the current UA president and vice president. Bernick explained that while he had approached the DP with these allegations after one of his supporters brought them to his attention, he was “disgusted” by the IvyGate post. “I did not want this to happen,” he said.

Shuster, however, said that Bernick has been running a very “negative campaign” by criticizing the current state of the UA, and said it will hinder the internal dynamics of the UA moving forward.

College junior Ari Cohen, who serves as vice chair of elections on the Nominations and Elections Committee, was impressed with the attendance of the debate.

“From my experience, the people who attended this year were extremely interested in what the candidates had to say,” she said.

College senior and UA Speaker Cynthia Ip agreed.

“The debates have been more successful this year in terms of attendance, the number of groups that were involved, as well as being able to differentiate the candidates,” she said, adding that “there was a lot of tension among the candidates, but I think tension is good especially when you’re trying to compare candidates.”

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