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One-party UISG election underscores political apathy on UI campus

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 10, 2010 7:30 AM

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The deadline to petition for University of Iowa Student Government president and vice president passed Monday, and the echoes of political competition failed to ring.

For the first time in at least 30 years, only one ticket will run for the highest student offices. UI juniors John Rigby, a UISG senator, and Erica Hayes, the current speaker of the Senate, will make up the only duo running for president and vice president.

The news only underscores the increase in on-campus political apathy.

Student political participation was once a hallmark of this institution. But it is now clear the only on-campus catalyst of activism is the 21-ordinance. While we applaud students for getting involved with issues they care about, it is disheartening to know that the majority of the students regard student-centered issues such as the tuition hike and surcharge as less important.

UISG President Michael Currie sees a reason behind this lack of participation.

“Students definitely have more control over the outcome of a 21-ordinance vote, in terms of being able to overturn the council’s decision with a referendum vote, than they do with the Board of Regents,” he told the Editorial Board.

Currie is correct to point out that students have more power locally than they do in rallying against tuition spikes. However, we disagree that protests and correspondence could not have influenced the minds of the regents or state lawmakers. Student apathy makes us a docile target of continued cuts to higher education.

A Facebook group called “University of Iowa Students Against the 21-ordinance — 2010 Edition” has more than 5,000 members, and that number is growing by the day. If such a sizable group was organized against tuition increases, we suspect that state officials would take notice. And if a mass of students mobilized a demonstration on the Pentacrest, elected officials and regents alike would certainly pay attention.

This lackluster activist ethos applies not only to tuition hikes but student turnout in City Council elections. On Election Day last November, only 17 people cast votes at the UI Main Library, the polling station for many UI students. In 2007, with the 21-ordinance on the ballot, students turned out in droves. On Oct. 24, 2007, two satellite polling places on the UI campus — Burge Hall and the Main Library — saw more than 1,200 votes cast. It’s no wonder councilors have no political incentive to listen to students.

The UISG campaign will start on March 29, ending with a vote on April 7 and 8. Unfortunately, it will give Rigby and Hayes the opportunity to set their agenda without the watchdog atmosphere of a multiparty election. Political competition promotes accountability and diversity of opinion, two characteristics key to the survival of the democratic process not only on this campus but across the country.

And the one-party election will serve as just another example of the political inattention of UI students. The 21-ordinance debate is a good opportunity to spur increased participation. Still, it should be part of a larger shift toward increased vocalism in student elections, city elections, and regent proposals.


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