The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Editorial double feature

Freeing student concerns

Student Council should take advantage of new ideas about how to collect meaningful feedback from the student body

After all the votes were tallied, one of the best things to come out of this year’s student elections was an easy solution to Student Council’s problem of soliciting feedback from the University community. Although Student Council Presidential candidate William Reynolds lost his bid for office, one of his ideas could provide an invaluable means for Council to gather information in the future.

According to Council’s Web site, there are three ways for students to make their voices heard: contact a Council representative, attend weekly meetings or run for an elected position. These channels might shed light on some student concerns, but they often collect only a narrow cross-section of student opinion. Even Council finds its current method of reaching the student body lacking: Last year, it spent $1,300 to reward students who participated in a survey with free Rita’s Italian ice, hoping to reach more of the student body. Council’s attempt to gain feedback was laudable, but the price tag might have been excessive for the information.

In his campaign, Reynolds found an easy solution to Council’s problem by implementing a feedback forum on his Web site to allow students to propose and vote on issues of concern to the University community. The forum displays proposed issues according to the number of votes they receive from highest to lowest. This forum allows all students to voice their concerns with minimal effort, and it also provides a broader cross-section of student opinion. If Council were to adopt and publicize this forum, it would be a valuable tool in its service to the student body.

Paper trail

The University Board of Elections should create a way to gauge spending on referenda

When trying to sway student opinion on referenda, the bottom dollar matters. Although individuals and CIOs spend large amounts of money campaigning for or against referenda each year, the University Board of Elections has no way of holding anyone accountable for such spending. More information is rarely a bad thing, and this case is no exception: The UBE would do a service to the University community in seeking to make referenda expenditures just as transparent as candidate expenditures.

One of the biggest logistical challenges in keeping track of referenda spending would be making sure all “sides” maintained equal levels of transparency. Only one organization or individual sponsors a referendum, but controversial referenda presumably have both supporters and opponents, many of whom might be spending money to influence student opinion.

The legality of a system for monitoring referenda spending would be another complicating factor. In 2003 the University’s legal counsel advised Student Council to change legislation proposed to regulate campaign expenditures because the University had concerns about the legislation violating the First Amendment. Putting up a flier or chalking for a cause can be considered an expression of free speech, so UBE would have to make sure any official regulation protected students’ right to express themselves.

Such obstacles might make it impossible for UBE to find an ideal solution, but UBE could certainly provide the means for students to self-report referenda spending and could encourage anyone spending money on referenda to do just that. The student body has the right to know who is spending what to influence a vote on a referendum, and those spending money have an obligation to the University community to make those expenditures transparent.


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