Ballot Referendum Question #3: A Question of Good Policy

Ben Whelan

In the upcoming Undergraduate Student Senate elections, the following referendum question was placed on the ballot: “The University has witnessed a surge in student initiated media including Lux and Chord student magazines in addition to the continued publication of the Mass Media and Watermark. Do you propose to change the current Mass Media student fee to a general Student Media fee and increase the amount from $10 to $15 to support a wider range of student media outlets? The application of this fee would unite student media and would allow greater efficiency and effectiveness for student publications to function as a whole.”

While we welcome referendum questions such as these, which provide a valuable source of information in terms of how the student body feels about a particular subject, we do have some concerns about the process by which the question made its way onto the ballot. It is because of these concerns that we contest the results of this referendum question, whatever they may be, and ask the student body to abstain from voting on it.

Firstly, neither the Mass Media, the Watermark nor the advisor to either of these publications was given any notice that the inclusion of the question on the ballot was being voted on until the night before the vote. As this is a question that directly affects the operations of the publications in question, we feel that the Student Senate, as a representative body, should have consulted their constituents most immediately affected by the inclusion of the question to get some input as to how they felt about it.

It should be made clear that with the position of senator comes the discretion to vote any way one chooses, but it smacks of paternalistic government when a representative body makes decisions for their constituents before getting a basic idea of their opinions. We would pose the question of how the Senate could vote on an issue without knowing the positions of all groups involved, especially when the interested parties are student organizations. In the future we would like to see senators put a greater emphasis on communication with their constituents in order to make informed decisions that truly reflect the will of those they represent. In general, this is good practice for any elected government official.

The second concern is a general one about policy making. Whenever policy is made, it is important to gather all of the relevant data on the issue and to make the wording of the policy as clear as possible so as to avoid confusion both at the polls and in further decisions stemming from the results of the vote. The question to appear on the ballot, as currently worded, does not explain how the fee of $15 would continue to support the Mass Media, which currently operates off of an optional $10 fee, as well as four other publications. This ambiguity could be misleading to voters and could also set the stage for internal struggle among these publications about how to “split the pie.”

It is also unclear how the cost of the proposed fee increase was set at the seemingly arbitrary amount of $5. With the available enrollment figures for next semester combined with the percentage of students who historically waive the fee and the combined projected budgets for each publication, it would be quite easy to determine a more exact number for the amount of a fee that would adequately cover each publication’s costs. We would ask that more work be done on the policy side so that questions like this one are more carefully vetted and put into a more appropriate form before they are voted on in the Senate.

Again, it is for these reasons that we contend that the final voting results for this question, whatever they may be, be thrown out until a more appropriately constructed question can be put to a vote. We would also ask that the student body abstain from voting on the question in its current form.