OUSC 2023 presidential debate overview

Presidential slates met one last time before voting as vice presidential and presidential candidates debated against each other for election to Oakland University’s Student Congress (OUSC) office. Moderated by Jeremy Johnson, candidates were asked questions on topics like tuition, campus safety, food on campus and the relationship with administration.

The debate included Murryum Farooqi of the Farooqi-Ferguson slate, Josef Gojcaj of the Gojcaj-Mitchell slate and Joshua Kobus of the Kobus slate. Below are their initial responses to the general questions asked.

General experience

Gojcaj: “I think my experience started at a young age growing up in an immigrant, working class household. I’ve gone through a lot of things in life, from drug addiction to mental health illness that resulted in the police coming to my home.

“But following that, I think my parents raised me pretty well. I think having that experience of being a hard worker and helping  people in a humanitarian way is why I’m here today. Also, I serve as the current director of outreach and events for OUSC. I came into the position very quickly after being nominated.”

Farooqi: “My experience in Student Congress has been, honestly, such an amazing experience. I have been a part of so many huge initiatives, so many huge wins for the students.

“We donated thousands of dollars to the affordable course material initiative, where students are saving upwards of $60,000 unaffordable textbooks. We ended the East Campus Development program, and we diverted those funds back to students. We fought for free menstrual products in every single building on campus, and I’m going to continue to fight for more of those.

“My track record speaks for itself. I started the pronoun pin program — we distributed thousands of pronouns across all of campus. That hasn’t even been a thing before I got here.”

Kobus: “I grew up in a family of seven. I’m the older brother, and then throughout my life, I’ve had more opportunities to display leadership, like becoming a resident assistant in the halls.

“Now, when it comes to my experience at the Student Congress, well, I have none. I am running just purely as a student who has been involved in some clubs, and I’ve heard their problems and their cries and struggles in terms of their involvement with Oakland.

“As the past two years have gone by, I’ve seen that OU Student Congress has kind of hidden themselves from the general population. So I’m coming here from the outside because I know there’s no biases, no conflict of interest issues or student politics that will prevent me from getting done what needs to be done.”

Groups to work with

Gojcaj: “Definitely think it’s hard to respond to selecting certain groups of people and certain populations on campus, but some groups of people that I feel compassion for are first generation students, the LGBTQ+ community, anyone who is associated with Greek life in the Greek community, housing residents and anyone who is an athlete.”

Farooqi: “I’ll say this. I’ve made a lot of different connections over my time in Student Congress, and I think every single student is important. I care about every single student, no matter who you are, no matter what your political beliefs are, religion. I’m going to work with you separately. 

“We actually already have a faculty rep, we have a liaison, club sports, we actually helped them get more funding. They came to us. We talked to them last year. You can double check it. You can ask ballroom and dance.

“We have grad students in Student Congress and the representatives that you’re talking about in gen body, we contact them every single week and they don’t give us any information, they don’t show up.”

Kobus: “I have many great ideas about who needs to be represented in Congress that is currently not getting representation they need. For example: representative from Greek life, representative from student athletics, club sports who have been struggling getting money.

“I believe our graduate students have also been forgotten — graduate student representative, and then a student representative as a commuter, and then one organization who has definitely been rejected is the residents’ life associate from housing. They have not been going to any meetings, and I think faculty goes into that, as well.

“I think it’d be great to have a faculty representative, and by having all these representatives at our meetings — and actually meeting at a good time, not Fridays at 4:30 that no one shows up to — I think I could get more people to come, have more representation and I could finally get an idea of what everyone on campus wants.”

Food on campus

Gojcaj: “I think we can all agree that we have some of the same experiences when it comes to food and dining here on campus. It’s pretty disappointing to see the quality of the food here on campus. I think one of the biggest things we need to do is improve on the quality, because from what I’ve known from Chartwells, they buy low cost stock. 

“They have a low amount of workers conducting the preparing of the food, as well as charging higher prices for the food even though they are lower cost. So I think one of the biggest things we need to do is improve the quality, lower the expenses, expand dining hall hours and continue to talk to the Chartwells.”

Farooqi: “As a freshman, one of my biggest things was having inclusive options, because that’s something that’s affected me personally, having strict dietary requirements. And so I know as a student, every student deals with and interacts with on-campus dining, and every student deserves food at a decent price and of decent quality.

“We’ve fought to expand dining hall hours in the dining halls that are open, we’ve fought to have inclusive food options, to have labeling for allergies and whatever it may be.

“And most importantly, the thing I’m most excited about that we’ve worked on is a program called Swipe Out Hunger, where we’ve worked to allow people to donate their unused meal swipes to students in need.”

Kobus: “I’ll say for sure that the dining halls aren’t perfect and they do struggle with a lot of issues. Now, I think I’ve learned from the current administration how not to deal with that. And I’m referring to OU Starves.

“OU Starves is honestly immature and honestly very cowardly — it’s basically bullying Chartwells by showing pictures of gross food.

“Now, the way that it’s supposed to go is, last year I was the resident assistant liaison to RLA. There, they have a Chartwells rep, and you could pair up all the concerns.

“You could say, ‘Hey, this food was really good that we had today.’ And you could also bring up more things to dining halls like, ‘We would prefer more fruits and veggies, for example. We prefer more options.’ Anyone could join these meetings, if everyone just went there and voiced those concerns.”

Meal swipes

Gojcaj: “I don’t think Swipe Out Hunger is doing enough, because there are a lot of people on this campus who are students who face lower income issues, financial issues, and I think lowering the cost of the food and telling Chartwells to lower the cost even though they’re buying low cost product.”

Farooqi: “I can say Swipe Out Hunger is something we’ve been pushing for the administration or for Chartwells since 2021, since last year when we talked to the food pantry, they told us about this idea. We got them to do it for one week, and over 300 swipes were donated, because they kept telling us no one wanted to donate.

“I think it needs to be something that’s allowed to happen year round. You should always be able to donate swipes, because you paid for them.

“And, both my opponents here are also kind of giving similar sentiments, but I’m the only one here that actually has a track record of getting Chartwells to do things. So at the end of the day, it’s a matter of who has the track record, who has the proof of ‘I’ve been able to do this in the past.’”

Kobus: “I think it’s a good addition, because now, as someone who eats at Vandy every day, we have a limited number of guest wipes and we can bring anyone non-OU student related or people on campus. 

“I know the previous director of Chartwells was an advocate of expanding that in terms of having unlimited number of guest wipes, but you could literally swipe your card as many times for whoever you want until your meal swipes go to zero. And honestly, I think being able to be more flexible with the swipes is a very good idea. I think it helps a lot.”

Cost of attendance

Gojcaj: “I think we can all agree that all of us face some sort of barrier to affordability on campus, whether it be tuition costs, housing costs, transportation costs, food costs and textbook costs. I think one of the biggest things we can do, if our administration is elected, is increasing state funding. 

“Right now, Oakland University is the lowest funded university in Michigan, and there is a low enrollment, specifically over the past few years, which significantly downgrades the funding that a university gets in terms of how many students they have, how much money they’re going to get for each student. And I would also like to increase the number of funding that we get per student on campus.”

Farooqi: “I know cost of college is a huge concern for every single student on campus. And so that is why pretty much every initiative that I have has some kind of connection to cost of college. You might not realize it at first, but kind of when you think about it, every single thing goes back to that. For example, you have the Trash Your Textbooks campaign that I helped run. 

“We donate money every semester to the affordable course material initiative that pays professor stipends to take the time to sit down and say, ‘Hey, this textbook costs $300. Let me take 20 minutes to find an equal version that has the same content that’s $0.’ And through that program, we put in $5,000.

“Let’s say one semester that saves students $12,000. For one class, one section, all classes combined for every single class, that gets you a total of $60,000. So we’re trying to reign in the extra burdens that students face.”

Kobus: “I know one of the reasons we’re struggling with finances is because of the drop in student attendance ever since COVID. Now, one thing to keep in mind is that right now, we need to give students a better reason to come to campus and to stay on campus.

“If we could give good reason, students will come to campus and more students means obviously jobs are paying better, because as the student rates drop, obviously budget cuts happen, wages lower, jobs get lost. 

“But as we can encourage students to get involved in campus more by showing attraction from anything, like Meadow Brook Ball — we can get other students to join. And as more students join, that means more money for the university, that means more creation of jobs, that means better wages and I think that’s how we plan to do it.

“You cannot simply push for them to just increase their wages without doing anything, because they’re going to raise tuition in order to pay for rising wages.”

Wages on campus

Gojcaj: “I definitely do agree that campus wages need to increase — minimum $15, $16 an hour. The specific solution is by including economists and talking with the representatives and getting or establishing a plan that increases wages yearly and fits with the fact of inflation. And I think what we can do when we get into office is talking with the economics and business departments to set out a plan to increase wages.”

Farooqi: “I remember your [Kobus] argument, hearing about how it’s not economical and they’ll just raise tuition. I don’t think that is a valid point, really, because they raise tuition anyways. They raise tuition every single year. They’re going to continue doing it, whether or not wages raise.

“They spend a lot of money on things that are not going toward students. They spent $200,000 on the East Campus Development Project, so I think they have the money to pay students a little more than $10, $12 an hour.”

Kobus: “Going back to what I said is that, pre-pandemic, housing was filled 100%. There was a lot of students on campus. I know in my platform, I talked about getting OU as involved as they were a pre-pandemic, because as we know right now, ever since the pandemic, the current economy has been in a recession. Inflation is obviously going to lead to a lot of budget cuts across all companies, and for universities that means rising tuition. 

“Getting as many students as we possibly can, make Oakland University as attractive as possible because we know if we could get OU money through more students joining, that’s the best way to do it. And throughout that, I know that wages will automatically adjust. 

“Jobs out there, they do want to pay. They’re not sitting there saying they don’t want to pay you $15. I’m sure they really do really want to pay you. They just don’t have the budget for that. And that’s what they need. They need a budget to afford raising wages.”


Gojcaj: “Following November 14 of last year, there was an incident here on campus when two armed people entered onto campus. And I passed a resolution a month later addressing safety.

“And what I would advocate for is swipe out locks on doors on every single building on this campus to ensure the safety of students, to ensure the safety of faculty and to ensure the safety of all OU workers.

“I also would like to create a standing position in OUSC with OUPD to further the conversation between the two.”

Farooqi: “I’ve been working on this tirelessly, especially this year. I mean, just today I met with the chief of police and VP of student affairs to talk about restricting building access after hours. Administration needs to be pushed on this, and you need someone in the position of student body president that is willing to push and willing to go back and forth.

“Because I’m being told the world is unsafe, there’s not a guarantee to anything. That’s not acceptable to me. I will continue to push to have every single building have restricted access, at least in the evening, in the after hours, because this is a crucial, important issue that I know every student cares about.

“And speaking about blue lights, OUSC, we’ve already addressed the blue light issue. We’ve had the chief of police invited to our meeting. We talked about it. They’re currently digging some pipes, or something.”

Kobus: “We had good ideas about that. One of the things I realized is that when you first get enrolled in campus, there’s no training about what to do in case of anything like this [school shooting at MSU].

“And I know for sure OUPD has those posts [blue light phones] outside that you could contact in case of emergency. Now, unfortunately, sometimes a lot of them are down and I think a lot of students don’t even know how they work. And so I think working with OUPD in order to encourage and educate students about what to do in case of problems like this would be awesome.

“Specifically for housing. I know having good relations with housing is very important, and I know there are some good people out there who really want to see campus to be safe, so it would require working both them and OUPD to make this campus safe.”

Relationship with Administration

Gojcaj: “Professionalism when talking to administration is ideal, as well as strengthening that relationship beyond what it is now, so that in the future, administration, when we need direct help for something, we can go towards them.

“And I think one of the biggest things of maintaining that relationship with administration is keeping the ideals, to uphold the students’ voices, but both keeping a professional environment.”

Farooqi: “I have been dealing with administration for a while, and honestly, Student Congress had an interesting ride in terms of our relationship with administration.

“When I got here, the atmosphere was very much ‘we will back administration, whatever they tell us to do, we kind of don’t question them. Our job is to kind of inform students about what administration does.’ And that didn’t really sit right with me. 

“We’re supposed to be activists. I want to push back, I want to work towards making campus better. And so when I was elected as vice president, that was one thing that made my campaign really unique. And that’s one thing, that we really shifted the culture in OUSC.

“I always like to negotiate and meet with administration before we do any kind of petition or protest. There’s a way to do things, and I have that experience. I’ve met with so many administrators, I have the most experience on that front here.”

Kobus: “I believe the first tip is to be as respectful as possible, because they are the ones running this campus. One of my plans is that I am not going for this position so that I have the authority to speak to the president or the administration. I’m in this position so that the students can tell me what to bring up to them. And I think that will alleviate some really good communication between us and them.”

Disproportionate graduation rates

Gojcaj: “I think one of the first things that our administration would be able to do is establish blank pronoun pins. Besides he/him, she/her and they/them, people who identify as a different gender can identify themselves as they want, as well as keep strengthening a relationship with CMI to establish programs to further procreate a society that helps people of color.”

Farooqi: “So one thing that we’ve actually found that directly impacts the minority graduation rate is textbooks, because the biggest reason people don’t graduate is because they can’t afford to keep paying tuition and paying for textbooks and paying for high prices for food and whatever else, just paying for all these different added fees.

“So data says this, that if you give people the option to not pay for their textbooks, they’re more likely to stay in school and graduate, because that’s just one less burden on them. And I’m also gonna say, as a woman of color, I understand the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, and I have a tracker heard of actually doing things about it.”

Kobus: “I know that there are many great organizations out there that would be amazing to work through, such as the CMI, GSC and I know even working with the Dean of Students to get to the bottom of the problems of why this is happening would be great.

“I know there are wonderful people. I’ve met with them before, and I think they’d be amazing people to work through with. I think they speak for a lot of those students who struggle to graduate or get good grades, and I think we’d be happy to work with them.

“We would have a liaison that goes out to them. We’d love to hear their voices, and their voices is what we’re gonna bring up to administration.”

Scholarships for VP and President

Gojcaj: “One of the biggest things with the scholarships is, coming from a person who is low income themselves, I can deeply express that if you’re helping people and you’re helping people in a humanitarian way, I don’t think I should have to be funded for that, because at the end of the day, it is for the people, not me. It is for the people, because any sort of scholarship that I receive from that does not adequately define me as who I am.”

Farooqi: “So this is kind of the theory behind that. You shouldn’t have to worry about ‘I can’t work in Student Congress because they don’t pay enough or because they pay nothing.’ When I got here, legislators were not paid. It’s basically gatekeeping leadership. 

“If you don’t give people support, at the end of the day what you have is all the rich kids, all the people who can afford to work in Student Congress for free. All the people that can afford to work for free getting leadership positions. I don’t think that’s right.”

Kobus: “I would just like to say, as a position of president when you’re serving the students, it’s more like a volunteering job. I don’t even agree that it should be a paid job. It used to be volunteering. The board never got paid, legislators never got paid.”