Philly Campus Leaders Criticized For Endorsing Obama

This story was written by Kathy Wang, Daily Pennsylvanian
The governor and mayor of Philadelphia aren't the only political leaders endorsing a candidate for the upcoming presidential primary.

Last week, student government leaders at several Philadelphia universities, including Penn, Temple and Villanova Universities and Haverford College, jointly authored a letter endorsing Senator Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate for president.

The letter ­­- which highlights Obama's ability to motivate and his financial-aid plan for higher education - states that the students are presenting their personal views, not speaking on behalf of their student bodies or governments.

And while the endorsement has drawn criticism from some students and Undergraduate Assembly members who think the leaders are using their campus influences to advocate personal positions, the endorsers stand by their decision.

"This is coming down to a really close election, and in talking to other student body presidents and the Obama campaign, we thought we would demonstrate support from student leaders," said College senior and UA chairman Jason Karsh.

The letter has been sent to several national and local media outlets, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and student newspapers at all four schools, as well as national blogs.

Some UA members have expressed frustration with Karsh's endorsement.

"I see this as the best-written media ploy on his and other student government leaders' behalf," said College sophomore and UA member Zac Byer, who also serves as president of College Republicans. "If he's not writing [the endorsement] as a student body president then nobody really cares."

But other UA members have come to Karsh's defense.

"I support the idea that student leaders can publicly endorse candidates, just as private citizens can," said Wilson Tong, Wharton and College senior and UA vice chairman for external affairs.

"There's always the risk of something being misconstrued, but [Karsh] did a good job expressing that it's his personal opinion," he added.

Other student leaders did say they were concerned about making their personal views so clear.

"The only hesitation I had about endorsing was ... [that] we represent diverse constituencies and I've always supported staying unbiased," said Juan Galeano, senior and student-body president of Temple University.

"I thought we were able to put together something that distances ourselves from our organizations and make more of a personal statement," said John Von Euw, senior and student-body president at Villanova University.

Galeano emphasized that the main purpose of the endorsement was to encourage students to vote.

Von Euw echoed Galeano in saying that the campus leaders' intention was to promote political involvement - he thinks most students already know whom they are voting for.

Still, some students have criticized that goal.

"I think you can promote political dialogue through other forms, such as soapboxes, and putting out a personal endorsement doesn't really promote much dialogue - if anything, it cuts it short," said College junior Phil Shecter.
© 2008 Daily Pennsylvanian via U-WIRE