If you’ve spent any time at all on campus the last several weeks, you’ve probably noticed the abundance of campaigning posters for USUAA president covering bulletin boards, all of them promising something – better leadership, an improved parking situation, lower tuition or just a change in general.
What you probably didn’t notice were posters for candidates running for the position of senator. That’s because there weren’t many. One might wonder why this would be the case. Shouldn’t students know something about the people they’re voting for? Wouldn’t potential senators want those students to know just why they’re well suited for the position?
Probably. But in this case, it really didn’t matter, because there were more seats open than there were candidates running for senator. Didn’t know who to vote for? Didn’t vote at all? No worries: Without any competition, all the senatorial candidates got a spot in USUAA.
The funny thing is, that was true even before student government increased the number of seats last year, making the situation not just likely but almost inevitable and giving students even less of an incentive to vote for their representatives.
And vote they didn’t. If voting statistics for the 18-25 age group in local, state and federal elections are dismal, those for student government are worse. Early estimates put the number of students who actually voted in the USUAA election March 28-29 somewhere in the low hundreds out of the thousands of students who attend UAA – even with the lure of candy at the voting booths.
It doesn’t help that each student elected to a position in student government has the option to receive a stipend. Yes, members of USUAA devote a good share of their time to student government and should be repaid somehow, and some of the stipends are quite reasonable; according to the bylaws, representatives and senators can receive stipends up to $100 per year and $250 per year, respectively, and that’s a pretty recent development. The vice president, though, can get up to $1,000 per year, while the student government president can take in as much as $2,000 a year – certainly not enough to live on, but not a bad chunk of money, either, and the bylaws aren’t too specific about where that money comes from. Neither is the student fees breakdown on the UAA Web site, which doesn’t mention stipends but does list “operating expenses” as one category for our mandatory student government fee.
Even if our fees don’t directly pay for those stipends, though, they do support USUAA in general, and considering how much money we feed this institution, we’re probably paying for them in some roundabout way no matter what.
And we don’t even need to show up at the polls for the senators to get their positions.
There lies the crux of the matter: For those of us who did take the time to vote, whether out of some sense of duty or just a desire for candy, we technically did choose our representatives because we filled in those little bubbles on the ballot. But so what? When there are more seats than candidates and every candidate will receive a position regardless of votes, what choice matters? Even refusing to vote at all won’t have an effect.
In other words, no matter how hard they might end up working, these students aren’t really representing us, because we didn’t really choose them-so we’re paying mandatory fees to support an organization that can’t truthfully be said to represent our interests.
And then they go to Juneau to advocate “for the students.”
Maybe they do – but if so, it’s not because we chose them.