Marcel Pasquina, Umang Khandelwal and Josh Jackson faced off in a difficult hustings on Tuesday eveningLouis Ashworth

Hustings for University Councillor was dominated by heated exchanges between Josh Jackson and Umang Khandelwal, with Marcel Llavero Pasquina opting for a somewhat more muted focus on divestment.

The three candidates are competing for a part-time role as students’ representative on the University Council, the University’s highest policy-making body.

Jackson and Khandelwal had already clashed on Sunday, after the former accused the incumbent of a failure of transparency during her tenure.

The debate began constructively with candidates outlining their campaigns and vision for the role. Pasquina’s opening statement highlighted the University Council’s recent refusal to implement a Grace calling for the University to fully divest from fossil fuels, despite its having passed through Regent House.

Khandelwal, the incumbent University Councillor, spoke of the deeper understanding she has gained from her time on the council. She promised to be a “strong voice in council” and argued that her time at the University of British Columbia (UBC) would aid her relationship with Stephen Toope, who will become Vice-Chancellor in October, having fulfilled the same role at UBC.

Jackson, who maintained his voice at a notably high volume throughout the event, pledged to be an “active and vocal councillor” who would be “on the right side of climate change and protect EU students”. Taking Khandelwal’s manifesto of the previous year from his pocket, Jackson accused her of a “massive lack of transparency and accountability” and of breaking her manifesto commitments, setting the precedent for rest of hustings.

Josh Jackson repeatedly attacked Khandelwal's recordLouis Ashworth

The floor opened with an aggressive question accusing Khandelwal of “platitudes”. Asked to list what she had “actually achieved” in her tenure, Khandelwal replied that she was “not sure” that her allotted time for a response “will be enough”, to cover all that she had achieved, before explaining that where there had been a lack of communication, this was due to the confidentiality of Council’s activities.

She was challenged by Jackson, who stressed that “we need students to know that they have a voice on the council” and called again for more transparency and accountability, claiming that Khandelwal had not provided these during her tenure.

Pasquina soon brought the conversation back to divestment and challenged the other candidates to outline their policies on the topic. This quickly descended into an intense back-and-forth between Jackson and Khandelwal.

When Khandelwal proposed to reach out to zero-carbon society and other advocacy groups, Jackson retorted that “we heard nothing from” over the past year. In spite of Jackson’s accusations, Khandelwal she was “very proud” of her work before challenging Jackson on his own divestment policies.

Following this exchange, Rachel Mander, CUSU Chair and Newnham JCR President, asked Jackson if he could lower his voice since she had difficulties understanding what he was saying. Despite these requests, Jackson continued to keep his voice raised throughout the rest of the debate, contributing to an already-tense atmosphere.

Asked about their proposals for the CUSU University Councillor Facebook page, Khandelwal emphasised the difficulties in striking a “balance between communication and confidentiality”. She explained the obstacles she had been met with, in reaching out to the student body, noting that there had been very little “uptake or engagement”.

Pasquina pushed for the processes of the University to become more open, suggesting that minutes from working groups of the Council should be made accessible to students on a new working group. Jackson quickly returned to the issue of Khandelwal’s accountability, a line of attack that he has repeatedly tried to pursue.

The awkwardness was palpable as Khandelwal interjected to correct Jackson on the pronunciation of her name. She went on to emphasise the need to focus on the principal issues, and told Jackson to stop “defaming or slandering” her in the process. Chair Jon Wall intervened at this point to emphasise that this was not the case, and that Jackson had simply criticised Khandelwal's record as University Councillor.

The discussion returned once again to divestment, before escalating as Jackson lambasted Khandelwal for failing to communicate to the student body about class lists, despite the “referendum having occurred 7 or 8 months ago”. He was then promptly corrected by the Wall, who reminded Jackson that the class lists referendum took place just last term.

The hustings awkwardly drew to a close, with the tense atmosphere continuing to loom over the candidates’ closing statements. Voting for University Councillor opened this morning and closes on Friday 10th March, with provisional results being released on the same day.

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