Jensen: Students need to hold ASUU accountable

By Matteo Jensen

Last October, while visiting Switzerland, we left our hotel and happened upon a boisterous crowd clad in white T-shirts. We followed these Swiss nationalists as they wound through Old Basel that crisp autumn morning. From the main square we watched as the crowd swelled into a sea of white, growing more cacophonous as it swept through the city. It was a mesmerizing spectacle and a refreshing reminder of participatory democracy at its best.

Switzerland is, perhaps, the most democratic nation on earth despite its lack of a single, unifying language and its rugged, mountainous geography.

On average, they hold seven elections every year and achieve 80 percent turnout or better.

So far even Obama-mania, for all its hype, has been unable to produce that kind of result.

The U holds one election annually, and participation is flat and consistently dismal.

The last four elections have averaged less than 15 percent participation from the student body of about 29,000.

Those numbers indicate that something is drastically wrong at the U. Yet as we approach another election cycle, neither of the parties vying to succeed the current administration has proposed a concrete plan to resolve this problem, or even paid lip service to it.

Instead, both the Focus and Spork parties are proposing the usual array of new, unelected commissions and councils, creating yet another level of bureaucracy within the student government. This is a travesty and the last thing students need or want.

These councils divert funding from the most critical and effective programs and merely serve to ensure the continuation of ASUU’s incestuous power relationships. These must be broken to restore students’ confidence in the democratic process and promote accountability.

That is only a preliminary step. Much more must be done to encourage students to reengage with ASUU and participate in the upcoming elections.

First, the U and ASUU must continue to experiment with new voting technology to make the process simpler and more accessible to students. This is essential because U students are generally commuters and thus always on the move.

The current method of Internet voting is eons ahead of the state or national systems and deserves accolades. However, it is not enough.

Switzerland has successfully completed several elections via text messaging. Because almost all students own mobile phones and carry them on their persons, voting in this way would make it much more personal, accessible and easy.

Additionally, candidates could take a cue from national politics and allow students to submit questions to the candidates via media such as YouTube. This could provide a unique and unstructured format that would be a welcome change from the standard fare.

Second, the U and ASUU must engage a stick-and-carrot approach to demonstrate the relevance of the election process. That means that voting should be encouraged with more than watered down cocoa and stale bagels.

Let’s reward students who exercise their right to vote with early registration dates for the next semester or with other, marginal benefits. Incoming freshmen and transfer students who have committed to attending the U, but who are not already matriculated, should be allowed to vote with the same incentives.

What better way for them to forge a deep and lasting relationship with their new school and its leadership?

Third, ASUU must cut its bloated bureaucracy. Student apathy should signal to ASUU that its actions are seen as irrelevant to the lives of most students. Making ASUU as lean and efficient as possible will allow its critical institutions to provide only the most essential of services, thereby demonstrating exactly how ASUU impacts students.

It will also force ASUU to justify the need for ever-increasing student fees. This means that the executive and legislative branches of ASUU must create a higher level of institutional transparency and maintain a greater degree of visibility to achieve awareness and understanding of their roles.

Finally, ASUU should immediately eliminate arbitrary campaign spending limits. These constitute an infringement of speech and limit a candidate’s ability to measure support and build momentum. Additionally, third-party groups (those that do not receive funding from ASUU) should be allowed and encouraged to engage in issue-oriented campaigning during the electoral season.

This would make the campaigns bold and complex instead of one-dimensional and popularity-driven.

ASUU acts unaccountably precisely because its constituents have little or no recourse against it. This can no longer be tolerated. We do not need grandiose new councils. We do not want more commissions. We do not need to bypass parts of the U.S. Constitution to coddle an elite minority. We need a healthy dose of democracy.

Whether you are at the center of the Alps or the height of the Rockies, transparency and accountability are characteristics necessary to ensure good governance and promote democracy. Right now they are sorely lacking within ASUU.

We must work to ensure that they can flourish so that the will of the student body can be fulfilled. That is democracy in action.

Now put your government to work for you!

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