Elinor Smith: From the Montana Kaimin, University of Montana's independent, student-run paper, this is the Kaimin ASUM debate.
I'm Elinor Smith. On Tuesday, ASUM candidates clashed onstage in the University Center Theater in a first-ever Kaimin debate. We asked them questions about their qualifications and policies to give students at UM a clear idea of who's running to represent them at the University.
We'll separate the debates into their own episodes, releasing on a day-by-day basis leading up to the elections. First up is the business manager — the person responsible for managing and finalizing ASUM's million-dollar budget. The candidates this year are Tor Gudmundsson and Joselyn Jolly.
Emily Tschetter: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Kaimin-hosted ASUM debate. My name is Emily Tschetter, and I am a news reporter with the Kaimin and your moderator for this evening.
We would like to thank the UC Theater for hosting this debate, and ASUM's cooperation in helping with setup, especially election chair Ethan Hanley's collaboration.
Tonight's order will begin with the business manager candidates, followed by the vice presidential candidates, then presidential candidates and, finally, the general senate race debate. In each of these debates, to keep our candidates on time, we will have warnings when candidates have 30 seconds and then 10 seconds left for their answers from the beautiful Mariah Thomas back there.
Here we have business manager candidate senator Joselyn Jolly and senator Tor Gudmundsson. I'm so happy to have you both. Here the ground rules: You will each have two minutes per answer with a one minute rebuttal for each question.
With that, are you guys ready to begin? Beautiful. Well, then we'll start with you, Tor. I would love if you guys could just introduce yourselves in two minutes and your top reasons and priorities in running for business manager.
Tor Gudmundsson: Thank you, Emily, and thank you to everyone who showed up this evening. My name is Tor Gudmundsson. I'm currently a seated ASUM senator, but the reason I wanted to run for business manager is to better improve the experience of student groups here on this campus. I think that ASUM, as a student government, fundamentally does a lot of wonderful advocacy for students here at this University. But the most tangible way most of us interact with our student government is through the services provided either by student groups or ASUM agencies here on campus. And I think that the business manager has, not just the most discretion over how that process interacts with the senate at large, but also a great deal of leeway in interacting with those groups and agencies to deliver the best student experience. So, like my initial motivations for trying to get appointed and then elected to the senate, and like most of my reasoning behind seeking leadership positions, my goal in campaigning for business manager is to do everything in my ability to improve the student experience here at this University. And I would greatly appreciate your vote to that end.
Tschetter: Senator Jolly.
Joselyn Jolly: Yes, thank you. Hi, I'm Joselyn Jolly. I'm a second-year student here in my undergrad in the College of Business. I ran last year as a write-in for a senate seat about two hours before the polls opened, and I thought long and hard before coming tonight on, when also my reasons for running, what they would be and how those would differ from my senate campaign last year. And I find myself running for the exact same reason that I did then: I firmly believe in the impact that accurate representation of all student opinions on this campus can have, especially when they differ with my own. I think that the job of any elected official — the business manager or any other position on this campus — is to serve the entire student body, not just themselves. And sometimes that comes with having to put your own beliefs on the backburner and swallow your pride and understand where other students are coming from so that you can best represent them. I found myself doing that this year as a senator and would love to continue doing that as a business manager.
Like I said, I'm a College of Business student and I study finance quite literally every day. So the business manager's job is something that's near and dear to my heart and something that I believe I'm qualified to do. Being that I'm a finance major, I understand the importance of transparency and honesty when talking about finances with student groups. And that's something that I promise to uphold, if elected. I've also served on the board on Budget and Finance for ASUM and the University Budget Committee. And I've learned a ton through both of those experiences this last year as a senator. I think that those are also two things that would offer a really unique perspective to the Senate body and to the student body as a whole.
Lastly, I've served as student leader in a number of student groups here on campus and so I've been on the other side of budgeting and understand the difficulties and confusion that comes with that. So having a business manager who can help you navigate through those difficulties and final budgeting requests, because they've done it, I think is really important, and I think is something that could have really high benefit to the student body.
Tschetter: The business manager position requires great organizational skills, as the business manager organizes the budget. What organizational skills and experience do you have that lends themselves to the business manager position? Starting with you for a two-minute answer.
Jolly: Yeah, I thrive on organization, and I think that I would be nothing if not organized. In addition to finance, I also study marketing and management entrepreneurship, and so I find myself having to balance a number of tasks every day, all of them centered around business and finances. So that's something that I quite literally have done every day for the last two years at UM, and something that I would be really excited to continue doing.
Like I said, I represent a number of student groups as a student leader in those clubs and groups that asked for funding from ASUM, and so I understand that you're juggling a lot of balls when you ask for those funding requests and having to navigate all those committees and communications with different student groups. But that's something that I already do in a smaller respect, and so I'm ready for the challenge of taking on more student groups and more of those communications. I think the biggest thing for me with organization is having a set schedule that you can work with, with each student group. Finances are not something that's easy for everybody, and not something that everybody's comfortable discussing and having an open conversation about. And I understand that. I'm sympathetic to that. So having a really organized discussion with every student group is really important. Being able to outline all of the final budgeting and all the different accounts that the business manager oversees and that the senate seeks funding from are really, really important because they are so specific. So being able to have one-on-one conversations with student leaders and their respective student groups and having organized and really responsible and respectful conversations with those student groups is something that I'm really excited to tackle.
Tschetter: Senator Gudmundsson, you have the same question, but with an extra minute for your rebuttal.
Gudmundsson: Thank you very much. I think, organizationally speaking, one of the core ideas around teaching writing — I'm a secondary education candidate as a literature major — and teaching writing, we fundamentally talk about the ways we present materials and how that language matters a great deal. And I think it's one of the things ASUM has ran into issues with across our governing documents, but maybe none so many as those we send to student groups for preparation of final budgeting. I think that the language we use in those could use a revision and could use a deliberate adaptation towards actually being a organized document, not just in the sense of having a located place and an easily accessible link to find it, but an organized document that's clear in what we're asking for, and how to fill it out. I think my own organizational skills really tend towards that kind of documentation in written form. I just actually will see it in tomorrow night's senate meeting. We reorganized our house rules for exactly the same kind of reasoning, because ultimately, it's one thing to have your schedules, calendars, notebooks, et cetera, organized and put together. But those documents themselves have to be well-organized, thought out and pieced together.
And then beyond that, I think my philosophy around organization is much broader than the documents or physical objects themselves. I think you really have to consider the human organizational aspects, because it's not just filing documents and looking at numbers and exchanging papers, it's interacting with countless different individuals at different points in different degree fields and at different stages of their life on this campus, and being able to interact and present those people, not just an organized front for what you're asking, but an actual organized schedule of all those disparate interests is a skill set that I think I'll excel in looking at this position.
And then pursuant to a rebuttal, I don't think I disagree with anything that Senator Jolly says. I think she's absolutely right, observing that her own organizational skills lend her well to this job as well. But I would reinforce the idea that organization extends well beyond the documents in their time in place. I think organization has to extend to what we're presenting, what we're asking for and how we're communicating with our students.
Tschetter: While both of you claim that you keep politics out of your campaigning for this position, each of you have some significant political history. Both of you are current senate members and students can see your voting records. Given your former political backgrounds, how will you manage the politics without the bias? Starting with you.
Gudmundsson: Well, I think looking at the senate at large as a political entity makes it really easy to overlook the actual work that gets done. Quite frankly, I think when we say the "politics" of a situation, it really requires a degree of clarifying exactly what you mean by the politics, right? We have the national-scale partisan politics, we have local politics, we have individual politics and then all the way down to the interpersonal politics of the senate conflicts. And I've actually been pretty pleased to find myself on comfortable social terms with all of my peers without having been mired in those sorts of political quandaries. And I think that it's really a matter of perception, right? There's not necessarily a format within the student government for partisan viewpoint. We don't have political parties, we don't have a political faction or division like that. So all of the political separations within student government aren't necessarily just overblown interpersonal conflicts. And I think that's something I've done a pretty good job of avoiding throughout my time while involved in the Senate, and it's something I think I can continue to avoid.
Tschetter: Senator Jolly with an extra minute for rebuttal.
Jolly: Yeah, for me, the biggest thing when navigating politics is recognizing that I'm not a politician — like, far from it. I'm one of the few senators — and so Senator Gudmundsson — that's not a political science major, and I read as a write-in because I am not somebody who runs a campaign and not a politician by any means, or any stretch of the imagination. And I think that everyone on this current senate body and in any executive position, ran and was elected because they think that they have the ability to do what's right for the students. And so for me, the way that I've navigated political conflict on the senate body and would continue to do so as a business manager is really simple. There's not a left side and a right side — it's what you believe with your own moral compass is right and wrong for the student body. And it doesn't matter who you vote for in a national election or a state election. All you have is the control on Wednesday nights with how you vote for the student body and advocate for those individual student groups. And I don't think that any senator's political background or political viewpoints, myself included, have anything to do with that.
Similarly to Senator Gudmundsson's rebuttal in the last question, I would agree with pretty much everything that he said. I think the two candidates that you have sitting in front of you are both far from politicians. And I think that that's what makes this a really unique business manager race, is that you have two people who want what's best for the student body and for the student groups, and just have different ways of going about doing that and different intentions when doing that. But neither one of us that sits before you has a political agenda that they're trying to push. And that was the case with my senate campaign as well. I voted on all bills and resolutions with what I thought was best for the students and what would represent students that otherwise wouldn't get political representation, even when sometimes those votes weren't what I believed are my own values, or my own political identities.
Tschetter: One of the biggest responsibilities of the business manager position is organizing the ASUM fund allocation for student groups. What experience do you have with allocating and handling funds, and how are you prepared to go through with student-group budgeting? Starting with you, Senator Gudmundsson.
Gudmundsson: So, this year's final budgeting process was particularly enlightening for me. It was the first year I got to go through budgeting with ASUM as an entity, and it's really a fascinating process. Actually, I'd recommend every student get involved with it, either as some facet of the ASUM Senate or with their student groups, because it's a really intricate examination of line-level funding items. I had previously been involved with broader-scale budgetary conversations, addressing what percentage of our available funds or where we want to spend our dollars. But the final budgeting process of this year was actually the furthest down to the line-level items that I've gotten the privilege of going through. And I think we did a lot really well. I think there's room for improvement, as there has been in previous years.
One of the things that I'd really like to see differently is a consideration of student groups' funding that they've spent from prior years. While student groups own fundraising dollars if they do a fundraising event and generate their own monies, that stays in their account year-to-year. But at the end of every year, ASUM reabsorbs unspent portions of its allocated budget, and no part of that conversation is actually factored into how we dole out next year's budget. And so I think it would be really valuable to consider if a group had thousands of dollars of unspent money in their previous year's budget, I'd be hard pressed to give them thousands of dollars again, and I think looking at that as a metric of what groups are actually spending this money, what groups are using the money they're asking for, and what groups maybe needed a more refined budgeting process is something we could really look at, because that then frees up money to fund smaller requests. I think the thing I'd really like to make a habit of doing is trying to fund lower dollar-amount requests in every given category. Because quite frankly, if a group of students comes together and says, "We have this cool thing that a bunch of us are interested in, and we can do it for 100 bucks, 200 bucks," I want to fund that every time, even if that means funding higher requests in the thousands, which I want to talk about and I want to do. I really want to fund small groups of interested students at the small amount.
Tschetter: Thank you. Senator Jolly.
Jolly: Yeah, thank you. Similar to what Senator Gudmundsson said, I feel really fortunate to have gone through final budgeting this year on the senate, and I feel like I gained a wealth of knowledge from that. Additionally, to speak to my experience of finance and budgeting, like I've said a number of times, I quite literally study finance every day. So if I'm experienced in one thing, that's probably it. Additionally, in my entire term, I've served on the ASUM board on Budget and Finance and the University Budget Committee, in addition to meeting bi-weekly with the University's Vice President of Finance and Operations, Paul Lasseter, and I think that having that close working relationship with him and those financial institutions on a broader level is something that would really benefit the senate body going forward. I've learned so much from my interactions with him and how ASUM's budget is run and how the University's budget is run on that broader level. And so, continuing that relationship is something that I definitely want to do.
Like Senator Gudmundsson said, ASUM oversees so many clubs and student groups, and none of them are the same, and none of their budgets are the same, or their missions are the same. And most of them are not groups that I share similar interests in or similar backgrounds in, and understanding that and coming to them and having those interactions with those student groups and those student group leaders within them, and having them explain what it is they're asking for money for and working one-on-one with them to get funding requests from the right account in a timely fashion is something that's really important to me.
A few weeks ago on the senate floor, we saw a travel request from the Birding Club talking about snow geese migration, wanting to observe that, and I'll be the first person to tell you that I have no understanding of snow geese migration. But what I saw was a simple financial request to give the student group that we fund the ability to do exactly what they do and what they're passionate about. So, working with those student groups to fund their requests, even when I don't necessarily understand what it is they're doing, just recognizing the importance it has to them, and to a large group of students on this campus is something that I would want to carry out for my entire term.
Tschetter: Senator Gudmundsson, would you like your rebuttal?
Gudmundsson: I think the one sentiment there that I would push back against is the association with the University Budget Committee. While I think it's a helpful learning curve and a reference point for operating a budget, I do think one of the best things that ASUM does is operate as a distinct entity from the University's budgeting process — that our student dollars remain in student hands to be spent for students. And I think that's actually a vital cornerstone of the ASUM organization. So, while I think there are things that can be learned from conversations with the University's budget entities in their financial departments, I think our independence and autonomy as a reservoir of student funds is a vital thing to keep in mind.
Tschetter: ASUM has had to make big decisions with where to send its funds, like last semester when it reserved $89,000 for ASUM Childcare. How would you approach decisions involving large funding requests? And what discretion will you use when deciding when to fill large funding requests? Starting with you, Senator Jolly.
Jolly: Yeah, that's a difficult question, because we want to place importance and priority on all student agencies and student groups on this campus equally and not fund one more than the other. And so, continuing off of what I said in my last answer, those one-on-one conversations with those agencies, those student groups, is really important. ASUM Childcare and the $89,000 — that's obviously a really, really large sum of money for the total amount that we have to budget. But it goes to a really good cause. And so the student groups that come forward, and that you can have those interactions with on why it's so important, and how many people that it's going to affect is really important.
Oftentimes, I think we only see the president of the club or a few members of the student group, and we see a large amount of money being asked for, and it's hard to understand why we need to give $89,000 to the one person standing in front of us. But when that person can tell us how many people that money is going to help is when we'll be able to best do our jobs. ASUM childcare works with so many students and so many of their own kids and different education departments to give students on this campus jobs. And that's something that we'd want to fund, even though it is a large amount. So understanding the magnitude of the request. But how many people it's going to help is really important. Like I've said, any job of any of the elected officials that you'll see tonight is to serve the students on this campus community. And that often comes with the high price tag. Understanding how exactly it's going to help and what we can do to help them help others on this campus is really, really important. And that's pretty much what I think is the most important thing of the business manager's entire job and something that I would really want to uphold if elected.
Tschetter: Senator Gudmundsson.
Gudmundsson: The childcare question is an interesting example, because I think it is a particularly large funding request, certainly the largest one in recent memory. But childcare is a service that doesn't just benefit students: It also actually benefits the faculty. I know there have been some conversations about potentially trying to find a cost-sharing model there for childcare, because it's actually one of the ASUM services that extends beyond just the student population. Not to say it's the only one, but it's certainly one of them. But I think those larger funding requests really do have to factor into, first and foremost: Can we afford it? fundamentally speaking, do we have the money to meet the request? But then, the second question becomes, "How will this immediately produce tangible benefit to the students here?" And I think I'm actually always pretty ready to try to make that happen for our agencies, because I think every one of them provides tangible benefit directly to huge swaths of the student population.
While I think it's vital to fund our student groups, I think there's orders of magnitude in difference between the budget of even our largest student group requests and those of our agencies. And I think that's reflected in the amount of students they serve. So keeping in mind the ability of each of these groups to do outreach and improve the student experience, I think they should receive commensurate funding, provided we can do it for them.
Tschetter: Would you like your rebuttal, Senator Jolly?
Jolly: I just think that it's really important to note, off of my own statement and Senator Gudmundsson's, the importance in funding these requests, both liberally and conservatively. By that I mean, there's only so much money to go around, at the end of the day. And that number in the accounts is pretty much all we have to work with. So, funding those student requests conservatively so that it can last a whole year, and for so many student groups, but also funding them liberally in the sense that we can give every student group the maximum amount of money for their desired purpose so that they can get the most out of their club. What we want on this campus is the most possible students involved in most possible clubs and organizations. And they can't do that without funding. So understanding that, yes, we have to have so much money to continue and get us through the rest of the year to fund student groups, but also understanding the importance of funding student group requests as they come even when they're in large amounts.
Tschetter: You've both brought up similarities between your values as well as agreements throughout this debate. So, how do we as students know who to vote for if we're choosing between two very similarly valued candidates? Starting with you, Senator Gudmundsson.
Gudmundsson: I think it comes down to what we intend to do with the position. And I think you mentioned earlier that our votes cast during our time in the senate are a matter of public record for the students; they can go and see how we voted. And one of the interesting sides of the business manager thing, especially compared to the presidency or vice presidency of ASUM, is that the business manager is most often going to be able to actually land on a right answer. There aren't as many nebulous problems in comparison to the broader strokes where there's a certain freedom in dealing with those numbers where you can find a proper solution.
I think that the reason I would encourage candidates to vote for me rather than Senator Jolly would be my voting record and advocacy over this past year. I think that there have been a number of instances where there have been opportunities to stand up for student concern, as they have come in and stood up to the senate. I would argue I've done so, and I think I've done so in a way that I'm proud of, and would do so again. And so I would encourage everyone to see how we voted previously. I'd encourage everyone to listen for those small differences in the way we suggest we're going to do things. Obviously, student groups and agencies are important, but the very specifics of how to allocate the most dollars per student — it's not quite the same. We're presenting subtly different platforms here. But more than anything, I think I would encourage everyone to go back over and see what we've said before. And, you know, come and ask.
Tschetter: Thank you. Senator Jolly.
Jolly: Like Senator Gudmundsson said, I encourage you to reach out to both of us and ask us and have those conversations with both of us because I think the best thing you can do for your vote is to make it an educated one. That's most possible when you talk to both of us and ask why we're running on a one-on-one level.
To answer the rest of the question, the reason that I think I'm the right candidate — why your vote should go to me rather than Senator Gudmundsson — is pretty simple. If you look back at the records of voting, I'm usually the one person that tends to disagree or vote a different way from the senate body. That can often be an unpopular opinion, but I also think that it's a testament to my ability to stand alone through adversity on the senate floor. When you're dealing with such high amounts of money and high dollar requests, that's really, really important to understand: When to uphold the governing documents, but also when to swallow your pride and understand that your opinion isn't those of your constituents.
Also, I think it would be a disservice to the student body that we are elected to serve to have a student government that all votes the same way and all thinks the same way. That will never be an accurate representation of this campus. So, while my votes on Wednesday night might appear to be unpopular ones, I'm far from the only student on this campus that thinks and votes the way I do. And I think it's really, really important to recognize that. That to vote in a bunch of people that vote the exact same way will never represent the student body — and that's our entire job, and the entire reason that both Senator Gudmundsson and myself are running. So I think, while it's important to recognize the pillars of our campaign, I think those pillars are pretty in line, because we both want to serve you, but recognizing that it's more than serving you: It's serving students that you disagree with, and serving students that you may disagree with at times, but still serving them because it's your job, and it's for the greater good of this University. I think that I'm the best possible candidate to do that.
Tschetter: We are now on to closing statements. You each have one minute, starting with Senator Jolly.
Jolly: Thank you. The pillars of my campaign are really, really simple. And that's because my entire campaign has never been about me, but always about the students. That's what I would want my term as business manager to be, is to serve all of you. I firmly believe that the student body needs an advocate who will place the students and their opinions over their own political beliefs and their own political agenda, and I firmly believe that there is no one more fit or qualified to do that than myself. I promise you that, when elected, I will work tirelessly alongside every single student group to understand every single funding request and walk them through those, because I believe that, while I have a responsibility to serve those students, I also have a financial responsibility to ASUM as a whole as the business manager. And those are things I believe I've done as a senator and as a financial advocate through committees. I've made it my entire mission of my senate term and my business manager campaign to serve the students, their interests and their values, even when they contradict with my own — maybe even more, at times like that. I am really, really proud to be a part of the student body and this senate.
I'm running because of the admiration I have for every single student on this campus and their own values and beliefs. And I don't believe that there's a more qualified representative to work alongside you — that's the entire reason that I think voting for me is really voting for you and your best interests.
Tschetter: Thank you. Senator Gudmundsson.
Gudmundsson: Thank you. And thank you, everyone, for turning out this evening. Thank you, Joselyn, for a delightful conversation. I would sum up my closing statements and point out the thing I'd like to do as business manager is fund the lowest dollar amount in any given category of student group requests. I think there's merit in trying to create a race towards the bottom. If you can do it for less, I want to fund it. I want to find a way where we can determine how much of a group's budget went unspent over a given year and consider that when budgeting for next year. And ultimately, I want to be an available and accessible resource for student group leaders, agencies and individual students for every part of interacting with ASUM and its fiscal policy. I have been here to help the whole time I've been here, and I look forward to being here to help next year, and I would encourage you all to vote for me in support of an equitable and accessible ASUM financial policy. Thank you.
Smith: You can catch a full transcript of this debate online now at montanakaimin.com. The Kaimin Cast is produced and edited by Austin Amestoy and me, Elinor Smith.
That's it for the business manager debate. Check back tomorrow to hear from the UM students running for vice president of ASUM. I'll see you there.