Editorial: Referendum strikes out

Student government elections are unfortunately often overlooked on this campus. This year though, a referendum may potentially nudge us out of this pattern. In addition to the usual positional elections, we are now able to vote on a measure affecting how funding from the Student Activity Fee is distributed in the coming academic year.

The referendum would grant Club Sports a Student Presidents’ Roundtable Board called Intercollegiate Club Athletics. As a member of this blanket organization, the ICA would receive 6.5 percent of the total student activities fee, meaning that some other members of the SPR board would see a decrease in their share of the funding. For more details, read our news story on the referendum itself.

In theory, this will solidify the financial stability of club sports on campus. This justification, however, doesn’t capture the depth of how significant and inefficient the policy change is.

The referendum re-allocates money at the expense of other organizations, and deciphering exactly how these cuts operate is difficult from how the referendum is structured on the ballot.

This leads directly into the most glaring flaw of the referendum: the campus really doesn’t entirely comprehend it, and was not given nearly enough time to do so. Through the past week, numerous members of the Editorial Board spoke with friends who didn’t know how they were going to vote. This was not because they were caught between sides of the debate, but rather because the effects of the change were ambiguous to them. Some who had picked a side, or even already voted, wanted to flip their vote after discovering they misunderstood what the referendum mandated.

This confusion makes sense since the petition was only sent out a couple weeks ago. It rapidly progressed from potential measure to legitimate policy.  There was very little communication from SPR throughout this process, with the referendum first being referenced in an email sent out by USG this past Tuesday. Beyond its inclusion on this year’s ballot, no other information was given as to what it would entail until the day of the elections.

There were a number of students aware of the goals and effects of the referendum, but only if they received emails from their other organizations explaining them. One member of the staff recalled hearing that one of his friends’ organizations sent information regarding the referendum to other club members. Meanwhile, a person in the same room said that they had received entirely contradictory information from another member of their own club. Neither person had a complete understanding of the situation, nor what exactly they were expected to make an informed decision about.

This is the hazard of introducing important policy changes through a referendum, and why you should pay attention to who initiates them. They may put direct control over the policy’s fate into the hands of the student body, but you should also ensure that these students are well-informed about the issue. In this case, we left a complicated fiscal measure to be unraveled by those it affects. The problem is, there was not nearly enough time for them to complete this task, as facts and figures will still filtering through the student body.

It’s important to provide financial security for large clubs at CWRU. But we must do so in ways that don’t strip other organizations of their funding or rely on votes from an unprepared electorate.

The Observer, as a member of the University Media Board, is affected by the results of the referendum. See the news article for more details.