The Easy Way Out

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Since 2011, the Student Union Assembly (SUA) proposed three measures — one of which was voted on twice — and all of these failed to pass. A recent proposal from the SUA seems to suggest this is a reflection of student apathy and not necessarily SUA’s inability to market their measures or create resolutions reflecting the concerns of the student body.

While we agree student disengagement with SUA measures is a real problem, we don’t think the solution is to shrink the number of students needed to pass them — which is what the SUA recently proposed.

Last week the SUA proposed lowering the required voting pool for compulsory campus-based student fees from 33 percent of the student body to 25 percent. Votes to increase fees would then require a Yes vote from 66 percent of that 25 percent in order to pass. This motion passed with 22 SUA members voting in favor, 8 against, and three abstentions. The SUA then voted to send this motion to Chancellor Blumenthal for final approval, as university policy gives the Chancellor final authority on changing the voting threshold.

The motion comes after the SUA voted in 2010 to increase the voter threshold from 25 percent to the current 33 percent, a measure intended to give the student body greater control over fee hikes. If Chancellor Blumenthal approves the current measure, it will effectively overturn this earlier decision.

The total eligible voters in the 2013 election were 14,797 undergraduate students and 1,344 graduate students. With the threshold at 33 percent, 4,883 undergraduates were needed to meet this threshold. However, lowering the threshold to 25 percent would decrease the threshold by more than 1,000 students, meaning approximately 3,699 undergraduate students could vote on measures affecting 14,797 undergraduate students.

While City on a Hill Press recognizes student apathy is often difficult to overcome, we nonetheless feel decreasing the voter threshold to 25 percent is not the solution. We strongly urge the Chancellor to reject this proposal, and encourage the SUA to focus on long term efforts to increase voter turnout, instead of taking the easy way out.

The recent history of SUA proposals shows it is still quite possible to pass measures that are of genuine interest and importance to the student body as a whole.

In the 2011 spring election, while three of the five measures failed to reach the threshold of 33 percent, two campus unit measures — the measure for the Cultural Arts and Diversity fee and the measure to increase Student Voice — reached the threshold 33 percent and passed. Campus unit measures refer measures affecting a specific “unit” — like Cultural Arts and Diversity — of the broader campus. Proposing referenda is vital to these campus units, as they often provide funding for student organizations and groups that rely on outside funding.

While some may argue lowering the threshold will also help campus units, and not just the SUA, pass referenda, the 2011 spring election results are a testament to the fact that campus unit measures can already reach the threshold, and even exceed it. We believe those elections are proof that if the cause is important enough, students will vote.

Though the student population has grown since 2011, making it more difficult to reach the 33 percent threshold, the SUA should see this as an opportunity to involve more students in the process, not decrease the amount of students needed to pass measures.

This proposal to lower the threshold also comes very close to the spring election, in which a referenda to increase student fees in order to fund an annual SUA concert is expected to appear on the ballot.

If the threshold is lowered, this would clearly increase the chances of the concert referenda passing, giving it an unfair advantage over measures that previously needed to meet the 33 percent threshold, and increasing our tuition in the process.

Ultimately, the recent lack of voter turnout should be recognized as a lack of interest in the SUA’s recent proposals. The assembly should not only reach out to students and urge them to vote, but also take the initiative and make a stronger effort to really hear what the students want and what they want to vote on.

The smaller the threshold, the greater amount of power goes into the hands of a few. We want as many students representing the interests of the campus as possible and not a small majority determining where our money goes.

 

Editor’s note: The original draft of this editorial indicated that the initial motion passed in the Student Union Assembly’s meeting was passed with a vote of 19 for, 11 against and three abstentions. The initial motion, which added the requirement of a 66 percent “yes” vote to the 25 percent voter threshold, passed 22 for, eight against and three abstentions. The subsequent motion, which sent the threshold change to Chancellor Blumenthal for approval, passed with a vote of 19 for, 11 against and three abstentions.