(mis)Representation

Elections are done. I know; I didn’t space the last week, and I would like to congratulate our own T.J. Bard for winning the presidency this year. But to be honest, I was frustrated at the way which our student body approached the election season. A post from Onward State put it perfectly:

Presidential candidate David Adewumi had a good point when he said
that most of the student body wasn’t attending last night’s debate, and
that the majority of people who were had already made up their minds as
to who they were voting for. And he was right: clearly divided sections
of supporters indicated their choice by the brightly-colored shirts they
wore.”

Unfortunately, this is the nature of political debates. Objective
discourse is nowhere to be found. The UPUA doesn’t have the luxury of
broadcasting the debate to a wider TV audience featuring undecided
voters. And even if they did, let’s be honest; who would watch? Each
ticket’s cheering section began applauding its candidates’ answers early
into the debate. During an opponent’s answer, sometimes these sections
would even murmur uneasily or borderline catcall their opponents, giving
the debate an atmosphere somewhere between the British Prime Minister’s Question Time and an episode of Jerry Springer.

I’m disappointed in UPUA for two reasons: first, for all the mudslinging and accusations that go on between the candidates, the few students who actually follow the election, and the educational and nonpartisan Daily Collegian. Second, I’m disappointed that less than 10 years ago, when Penn State Students got together to remodel the system of student government, they didn’t pick a structure that would allow for campus-wide student engagement. Instead, they chose an archaic and conventional system that, much like the local and state government today, would only appeal to a portion of the population (note: a record 18% of the undergrad population voted this year). I’m probably going to be considered radical for this idea, but to me it seems that we have a small enough population on this campus that we don’t need representatives to vote for us. Instead, I think that student government would be much more representative of the student body if every student were to be given the right to vote individually on legislation. We’re more than capable of doing it -either through electronic voting booths or through our e-lion accounts. Ultimately, I’m just bummed that instead of coming up with a creative alternative to our flawed system of government, we the students settled for minimal representation.

Happy Monday,

-Harry

p.s. Go Huskies!

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8 thoughts on “(mis)Representation

  1. ASHLEY CONNER says:

    Hey Harry!
    I just wanted to say that this blog points out significant areas of the student government organizations at Penn State that need improvement.
    I was present at the debate the night before election day that you mentioned in your blog and very disappointed at what I saw. Candidates (who shall go un-named) seemed to be acting very juvenile and were making personal attacks at the others. They weren’t really discussing the issues surrounding the election and seemed to have alterior motivations. It truly was getting Jerry Springer-ish — and that doesn’t accomplish much, does it?
    Also, it is very true that those who typically attend the debates have already made their mind up about who they are going to vote for. That being said, there is no need for the personal attacks and cat-calls. It makes candidates look like they don’t have a strong enough platform to win on goals and initiatives alone. Having popularity at a debate is nice and all, but that popularity doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing and sure as hell doesn’t accomplish much during one’s tenure.
    I am quite pleased with the results of the presidential election, but I have high expectations for the upcoming school year and new leadership. With the new state budget in place, it is important that the student voice is heard on a large scale. Now that the pettiness can pass, hopefully we can make progress toward a productive and representative student government… and get more students to vote in the next big election.

  2. RISHI KUMAR MITTAL says:

    Hey guys, my name is Rishi Mittal and I got bored today and I decided to read some of your blogs. (BTW I’m in the Freshman Class of PLA so I’ll most likely meet you guys at the reception in mid-April.)
    Anyway, back to the blog post. I totally agree with everything you are saying. However, to the point about letting all students vote on Legislation, it would be ideal; however, impracticable. Having students vote on e-lion on legislation would take a long time and I really do not think a significant number of students would actually care to vote. Also there are some pieces of Legislation that need to be passed quickly so UPUA can act on it. I do agree that more student input would be nice. I ran the UPUA website this year and (if allowed to continue) I will most likely run it next year under TJ’s Exec Board. I plan on creating polls for different pieces of Legislation on our website so students could voice their opinions about various pieces of Legislation. Do you think that would be more beneficial?
    Also, I would like to see UPUA being more open to students outside the organization who want to get involved. Almost every other week I get an e-mail from a student asking how they could get involved. However, in most instances, I have to tell them that they could get involved by running for a position in the spring. Instead, if we just had a general membership into UPUA where we could hold bi-weekly meetings, I feel that UPUA would grow as an organization and people would be more involved.
    Finally, I feel that if we do want students to vote in the elections, UPUA has to do something extraordinary for the students. Or change its name back to Undergraduate Student Government (USG). We need to have the word “government” in our name so that students actually know the we are the official student government for Undergraduate UP students.

  3. RISHI KUMAR MITTAL says:

    Hey guys, my name is Rishi Mittal and I got bored today and I decided to read some of your blogs. (BTW I’m in the Freshman Class of PLA so I’ll most likely meet you guys at the reception in mid-April.)
    Anyway, back to the blog post. I totally agree with everything you are saying. However, to the point about letting all students vote on Legislation, it would be ideal; however, impracticable. Having students vote on e-lion on legislation would take a long time and I really do not think a significant number of students would actually care to vote. Also there are some pieces of Legislation that need to be passed quickly so UPUA can act on it. I do agree that more student input would be nice. I ran the UPUA website this year and (if allowed to continue) I will most likely run it next year under TJ’s Exec Board. I plan on creating polls for different pieces of Legislation on our website so students could voice their opinions about various pieces of Legislation. Do you think that would be more beneficial?
    Also, I would like to see UPUA being more open to students outside the organization who want to get involved. Almost every other week I get an e-mail from a student asking how they could get involved. However, in most instances, I have to tell them that they could get involved by running for a position in the spring. Instead, if we just had a general membership into UPUA where we could hold bi-weekly meetings, I feel that UPUA would grow as an organization and people would be more involved.
    Finally, I feel that if we do want students to vote in the elections, UPUA has to do something extraordinary for the students. Or change its name back to Undergraduate Student Government (USG). We need to have the word “government” in our name so that students actually know the we are the official student government for Undergraduate UP students.

  4. MELISSA IDELLE DOBERSTEIN says:

    Good comments everyone! I do remember when UPUA was USG and there were the same issues. I am not sure what can be done to improve this.
    Rishi…do you think more students would actually go to bi-weekly meetings?

  5. MARLA T KORPAR says:

    Harry,
    I understand your frustrations with the current student government system and must agree that there are flaws in the way UPUA being run. However, I don’t think the entire blame can be put on the UPUA. As Rishi stated, ideally a system where each student could vote would be optimal. However, without some sort of student government system such as the UPUA who would create the platforms for the student body votes and how would our ideas be organized? In my opinion, a major problem with the current system is not UPUA but rather that students are apathetic to the student government and unconcerned with their right to vote. Generally, our generation has disconnected themselves from one of their most fundamental and basic rights of voting. One of TJ’s platforms was to increase student involvement. In my opinion, the greatest task the UPUA must now face is reaching out to our student body. First, they must take steps such as Rishi expressed, starting polls and implementing a system that allows for things like a general membership. Then, the harder and timelier task of reaching out to those who are apathetic to student government must be taken on. This can be done both actively by recruiting students to get involved, and through the UPUA’s own success. As the UPUA starts to make changes that capture the attention of the students, and more students are involved in making those changes through programs such as general memberships, then others will take the opportunity to have their voice heard. Only through improvement of both opportunity of student involvement and UPUA performance will students begin to show interest and participation in student government.

  6. DAVID ADEYALO ADEWUMI says:

    Harry,
    You bring up some interesting points. I think it was unfortunate that most of the headlines in the Daily Collegian and OnwardState dealt more with controversial subjects than actual issues that are relevant to students.
    After returning from six months in missionary school I attended Penn State for the first time in the spring of 2006. That was the semester the University Student Government disbanded with quite a fracas. What I noticed then is what I notice now; the more focus on non-issues (violations, accusations, who showed up at what rally, et. al) the more students tune out their student government.
    I think you hit the nail on the head: ” Instead, they chose an archaic and conventional system that, much like the local and state government today, would only appeal to a portion of the population.” When the University Park Undergraduate Association was created, it was meant to be a student advocacy group that was lightweight and wouldn’t be bogged down in bipartisan-style political issues, parliamentary procedures, legislation on the like.
    Unfortunately it didn’t take much time at all for that original vision to be lost.
    What students want is not a “student government,” or a trade association of future law school attendees (although unfortunately, LSATs and GPA are going to matter much more than involvement in student government) and career politicians; want students want are students who can deliver results and improve their daily lives.
    I do think; however, that TJ and Courtney will do an excellent job of leading the organization for the next two years along with a great assembly (half of the chairs are in my fraternity).
    Attitude reflects leadership, and I believe TJ and Courtney will display exceptional leadership — perhaps some of which was honed in PLA — that will bring forth a new and improved era of student advocacy.
    Sincerely,
    David

  7. DAVID ADEYALO ADEWUMI says:

    PS Do you have a Facebook? If not, I’d love to read a post on why you don’t; I’m sure it’d be insightful.

  8. DAVID ADEYALO ADEWUMI says:

    Harry,
    To follow up on your note about the Daily Collegian and their coverage of the election.
    In my Facebook inbox (the only one that matters these days) I received a note from a childhood friend: ” I follow the daily collegian on twitter and saw that you ran in elections for the university and there was a bit of a controversy over it. I see that in the end someone else won, but I wanted to congratulate you on your ambition to make a change on campus and the world. ”
    TDC is an incredible operation, employing (most of them for free, some paid) a couple hundred students to produce a quality newspaper day after day. However it is not without its flaws.
    Having written for the Daily Collegian, I remember one story that perhaps is apt in this context. There was a star football player who had been the most prolific rusher in Pennsylvania High School History who was recruited to attend Penn State. For several reasons, he did not have the illustrious career that many thought he would have. He wasn’t favored by the coaches, players, or the fans. When this player was accused of sexual assault and rape, the Daily Collegian editors ran headline after headline about the case.
    What’s interesting is that one of the senior reporters on the “cops and courts” beat, later told me this: “we wanted to destroy him, David. We believe he was guilty and wanted to tell the world that story.” This was in a conversation in regards to whether bias exists in the media. She essentially told me “yes, but only for certain people.”
    The running joke at Penn State is that once you’re in the Collegian, you’ll take a different look at their articles — especially once you’ve been “misquoted.”
    This year, as with most, the media will only highlight controversy after controversy, and than later ask — why didn’t more people vote? why didn’t more people care?
    People don’t care because the media have tuned them out from caring, putting too much emphasis on drama and controversy, and little on substance.
    Time writer, James Poniewozik wrote: “This election and its stakes are so significant that people’s appetites are insatiable. They want their voices heard, their issues resolved, their lives bettered. Really, they want the election to be over and to know who is going to win. The media can’t give them that, so instead they help people kill time by keeping ire and anxiety stoked.
    One source of tension is that the media run so fast while politics moves so slow. By February, political observers doing the math saw where the Democratic primary was going–but it would take three months to get there. So the media revved their engines like a car in neutral.” 1
    The idea is that the media loves to create tension in order to move the story forward. And while they’re apt to cover controversial subjects, they also claim not to hold biases.
    Nevermind that editors of newspapers are in the same fraternities, academies, and clubs with their subjects; reporters with hardly enough experience to call them that routinely cover their friends.
    What’s most disappointing about any election, is that the media knows much more than they let off — but wouldn’t inform the populus about their own biases or knowledge. Most students who follow UPUA in the paper (not many, I know) often think that things happen the way they seem. “such and such got an endorsement, etc.” The problem being that most of these meetings are perfunctory — last year the IFC President sat me down a month before the election and told me he had planned for two months to endorse one of the Presidential candidates. This year, it was hardly any different for most of the endorsements any candidate received — much work had been done for behind the scenes to secure promises and commitments of endorsements, and as expected the TDC/OnwardState follow in-line.
    One organization, The Daily Collegian, won’t admit a bias and claims objectiveness; the other media organization, OnwardState, admits a bias but claims it doesn’t affect how they report the issue. At VentureBeat (which is syndicated by the NYT) we encountered this question all the time — how much is full disclosure, where is the line of integrity with what you report and what you tell people about your relationship as an editor or writer with the subject of your material.
    Old media clearly has a preference for not disclosing relationships, with political candidates, administrators, students, etc. even though it of course affects the way they perceive, report, edit, and copywrite. How close is too close? If an editor is benefitting from a relationship with an administrator or faculty member longterm (career benefits) can one expect that editor or reporter to do investigative reporting or tell a fair and balanced story? Could a student politician speak out against the hand that feeds them networking opportunities? Could an ambitious academic student speak out against a system that benefits them greatly?
    These are the shades of gray I hear talked about by my fellow students both those inside and outside of PLA.
    At the end of the day, it’s just student government elections. However what happens here is a good precursor to what happens in our local, state, and national elections. Backroom deals are made, media have a favored candidate, and people still don’t hear an objective dialogue on the issues– as they are too busy being drowned out by the controversies the media highlights — and the media will always complain that voter turnout was too low.
    Your analysis is great, and I appreciate the courage you showed by posting your thoughts.
    1 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1855330,00.html

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