This year’s race for president of the undergraduate student government is a decade in the making. Adam Biederwolf and Mohammad Assed, both raised in Albuquerque, have known each other since elementary school.
Now, heading into what is likely to be their final two semesters of university, they are running against each other to represent the undergraduates as President of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico.
The President is elected by a plurality of main campus undergraduates and comes with a $10,000 per semester salary and a scholarship for two semesters. According to the ASUNM constitution, the ASUNM President is responsible for the eight student service agencies of ASUNM, (this coming year) co-chairing the Student Fee Review Board, representing the undergraduate student body to the Board of Regents and enforcing the ASUNM Senate laws.
Both Assed, currently ASUNM Senate Steering & Rules Chair, and Biederwolf, currently the Director of Lobo Spirit, believe they are the right person for the job.
ASUNM is directly affected by declining enrollment. Every undergraduate student pays an “ASUNM Fee” which is used to fund budgets and appropriations of student organizations and to pay for inter-ASUNM costs, such as the agencies and office supplies.
This means that when fewer people come to UNM, ASUNM has less money.
While both candidates acknowledge ASUNM’s limited ability to affect enrollment, they also said increasing enrollment was a major pillar of both campaigns.
Assed, who sat on the Student Fee Review Board (SFRB) as a Senator in 2018, said that he’d like to see more groups reach out to high school students.
“One of the big groups that did that was the LGBTQ Resource Center. Once (the SFRB) heard that it struck a lightbulb in all of our heads,” Assed said.
Biederwolf emphasized what he described as the low morale of the student body as something he’d like to change, in regard to enrollment.
He added that he’d like to work on the “little things” to make UNM more accessible for current (and potential) incoming students.
In 2017, the ASUNM presidential election saw a record high turnout of about 2,400 students, about 13 percent of the undergraduate student body in 2017. In the fall 2018 semester, just 1,048 undergraduates voted in the Senate election, which is about six percent of undergraduates.
This was a major issue for both candidates.
“Those numbers are not anything that I am personally proud of,” Assed said. He added that he sees ASUNM as covering a small number of students as the reason for low voter turnout.
Biederwolf, a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, said that “ASUNM is Greek oriented and it’s sad.”
The candidates proposed different solutions for tackling this issue, both centered around groups they saw as not having the same amount of access as Greek life.
Biederwolf proposed using ASUNM’s marketing resources, such as email listservs and poster placement in the Student Union Building, to promote events put on by student organizations.
Assed said he and his running mate Holly Gallegos were sponsoring a package of legislation to amend the ASUNM constitution to create 10 new seats on Senate to be filled by students elected by the UNM resource centers. The package also would create a
This legislation package hits the Steering & Rules Committee — Assed chairs this committee on Wednesday.
Both candidates said the ongoing debate over faculty unionization was an issue they hadn’t yet spent time researching.
Assed said he wasn’t yet sure if he supported the faculty union. He connected the issue with enrollment saying that it was important for the University to hire and retain good faculty if UNM wanted to grow enrollment.
Biederwolf gave a tentative “yes” to his supporting the union, pending developments in the ongoing debate and his own research.
Closing The Campus
Both candidates said they supported a closed campus, or a campus that only allowed students, faculty and staff to traverse.
Assed said that, while he supported the idea, the cost of doing so would be unfeasible. Biederwolf said that he believed a closed campus would help in terms of creating a safer campus.
Neither candidate said they had any immediate plans to support this change.
One of the most impactful powers of the ASUNM president is their control of Governmental Affairs, an agency that lobbies the New Mexico Legislature. In recent years, Governmental Affairs primarily focused their lobbying efforts on bills that involve the Lottery Scholarship.
Both candidates said that advocating for the Lottery Scholarship would be a priority if they were elected. Both candidates also said that increasing the scholarship's coverage could help with the University enrollment woes.
Department of Justice Title IX Enforcement Oversight
Biederwolf agreed with his running mate, Madelyn Lucas, who said that while lots of progress had been made, a few more years oversight wouldn’t hurt.
Assed said that the University was ready for oversight to end.
“A lot of people don’t really give UNM enough credit when it comes to issues like this. We have a very vocal community when it comes to issues like Title IX,” Assed said. He added that with proper communication and outreach, ASUNM could help make the community stronger.
On Monday, March 18th, the ASUNM Election Commission will host a candidates forum in the SUB atrium from 11 to 2. Assed, Biederwolf, Lucas and Gallegos are set to answer questions in a debate-style forum. The election runs from March 24th to March 27th.
Justin Garcia is a staff reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers student government. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @just516garc.