September 23, 2010

S.A. Election Reveals Student Body Apathy

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“Are you aware of the S.A. election this week?” “Uh not really, I think I saw a few names on the sidewalk” was a conversation replayed numerous times this past week. This answer captured the prevailing mood on campus regarding the Student Assembly elections. From Monday to Wednesday, all freshmen and transfer students could vote for their respective candidates for S.A. Representative. Despite 24 freshmen running for only three contested seats, turnout barely reached 44 percent, less than half of all eligible students. S.A. members and administrators cited various reasons for why turnout might be so low.Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 said that students’ extremely busy schedules may be one cause of voter turnout.S.A. LGBTQ Rep. Matt Danzer ’12 noted that “a lot of students see it as four years and you’re out … they aren’t thinking of leaving a footprint behind.”Other S.A. members concurred. The issue is emblematic of “apathy in elections in general in America,” according to Natalie Raps ’12, S.A. vice president of public relations.Part of the problem might be that many students are unsure of the S.A.’s authority –– something S.A. President Vincent Andrews ’11 maintained was more comprehensive than some may believe.The S.A. charter establishes that “the S.A. will have legislative authority over the policies of the Department of Campus Life and the Office of the Dean of Students.” According to Andrews, “this essentially means [the S.A.] can address any administrative and student life activity which occurs outside of the classroom.”For some, the fact that President David Skorton must approve S.A. resolutions before they are implemented may make potential voters wary about how much influence the S.A. ultimately holds.“The S.A. is always limited by the fact that everything it suggests is a recommendation — President Skorton doesn’t have to listen,” said Charlie Feng ’11, S.A. director of elections. Representatives maintain that they have been working hard to change the general student apathy about S.A. elections, as evidenced by the dismal turnout at the candidate forum last Tuesday, where the candidates outnumbered their audience.Feng said the S.A. plans to reevaluate the way these forums are conducted to increase the candidates’ visibility to the student body.“In the future, we plan on filming the forum and uploading the videos to YouTube,” Feng added. In spite of potential concerns about lack of general student body interest, administrators insist that the S.A. remains an important check on the administration.“When administrators make a decision, their first thought is, ‘What does the S.A. think?’” Ari Epstein, assistant director of the Office of the Assemblies, said. He mentioned that the S.A. has done a good job of overseeing the administration’s Greek policy changes and Caring Community initiatives. Hubbell added that the S.A. is a “voice for all students … [it] renders a great service on the behalf of all students.”Despite the low voter turnout, Cornell may be doing better than its peer institutions. At Columbia University, for example, only 20 percent of freshman voted in this fall’s election, according to the Columbia Spectator. Epstein said that this is first semester the S.A. asked the Office of Assemblies to report the voter turnout percentages, but warned against relying on voter turnout to evaluate the role of the S.A. on campus.“I don’t think any single metric gives you a full picture of how campus governance is working,” Epstein said.

Original Author: Max Schindler