Student participation: Can we improve?

The Observer

According to the results of this year’s senior survey, the class of 2013 was relatively satisfied with their overall undergraduate experience. However, there is one more detail that should not go unnoticed: student participation, or the lack thereof. Out of the seniors surveyed, 40 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the voice they had in university policies, while 32 percent were dissatisfied with the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). The good news is that a majority of the surveyed students were satisfied in these two things. The bad news is that the dissatisfaction rates in these areas should be zero.

What this all boils down to is a myriad of forms of disconnection between students, USG and the administration. The students do not seem to know who to turn to when it comes to initiating a change on campus. Or then they simply do not seem to care that much.

Students do not seem to run for positions where they could make an impact on university policymaking – USG almost always has vacancies in their caucuses. Last year, the USG moderator website collected a total of 75 submissions from students and 3000 votes on different issues. That is not a lot, if you consider that there are around 4,000 of undergraduates last year along with the fact that these results span a long time period.

Yes, USG meetings are open to the general public. But no one ever really attends them. A USG newsletter is sent out to the CWRU community every week – yet only 1700 students read it. In the elections last spring, only 1457 students voted for the candidates for the executive board USG. That is 34 percent of all undergraduates. Even though this number was much bigger than in the years past, it’s still alarmingly low.

The lack of participation could also partly be due to a PR problem on USG’s end. It is not likely that when asked, a random student would know the name of the USG members who represent their specific caucus. There is not much buzz going on around campus about the specifics of the current projects of the different committees of USG.

Fortunately, USG is planning to address the PR issue this year, but its advertising needs to be revamped completely in order to cause a major change in the current situation.

The lack of communication between the CWRU administration and students should not be overlooked either. It is USG’s objective to be the link between students and the administration, but sometimes it seems that the link is broken. USG has established a speaker series for its biweekly general assemblies, where someone from the higher end of the university food chain appears in front of the representatives and speaks about a relevant issue related to their respective position.

But how does that make a difference in a regular undergraduate’s life? While it is helpful that the speakers introduce themselves to students, most of them barely reach out to us, either directly or through USG, to ask for our opinions on certain subjects.

Looking at all these factors, it is no wonder that last year’s seniors expressed dissatisfaction over the say they have in university policy-making. In order for the senior survey results to be lower next year, we all – students and administration alike – need a drastic change in the system as well as in our attitudes.

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