With the task force on Confederate statuary about to make a decision about the future of the controversial Jefferson Davis statue, and others, this university continues the good practice of soliciting student opinions on issues of importance. For a university with more than 50,000 students, it is imperative for students to be able to express their views on issues which will sigificantly affect them, such as these. This is undoubtedly good for students, but a referendum on such issues would represent them even better.
If the University wants to better measure the student body’s view on certain issues, such as the Jefferson Davis statue or tuition increases, for example, it should have these issues put on the ballot concurrent with Student Government elections as a student referendum. If the issue is time sensitive, there’s no reason why the referendum should not be allowed to be held on its own, as voting is online and easy.
Currently, SG’s main legislative power comes from passing resolutions that are non-binding; likewise, these referendums would be non-binding. However, the latter would have a greater force of persuasion as they are voted on directly by the students.
“I’m a huge advocate of student referendums, and I think it’s a terrific idea for students to be able to vote on campus issues concurrently with SG elections,” University-wide Representative John Falke said.
However, the referendum is rarely used by SG. This must change.
Traditionally, SG has strived to be the voice of the student body, but, as the recent SG presidential election suggests, that may not be true. Election turnout was 18 percent of the student body in 2015. While this rate is higher than 2014, it is too low for this prestigious University.
The reason turnout is so low is inextricably tied with students’ belief that SG does little to represent their views and actually take actions according to those views. In this year’s SG presidential election, Xavier Rotnofsky, who had no prior SG experience, defeated SG veteran Braydon Jones, former speaker of the SG assembly. This extreme example exemplified the discontent that students have felt with SG. Referendums would change this dynamic, both by allowing SG representatives to listen to their constituents and put issues on the ballot about which their constituents care. By having these referendums, students would have a better reason to vote during SG elections.
SG should employ this technique more often and put contentious issues on the ballot instead of spending countless days having debates and protests over issues that they may or may not be qualified to represent students on.
“Many students do not feel SG truly represents their views as a student body, and frankly, many do not care what SG has to say, which is obvious in voter turnout.” said Madison Yandell, president of the College Republicans at Texas, an organization for which I formerly served as president. “In recent years, it has become apparent there is a disconnect between SG and the student voice.”
This occurs, for example, when SG passes resolutions claiming to represent the views of the student body despite having no proof the majority of students support those views. Student leadership has even supported tuition increases in the past, despite the student body’s consistent opposition.
In employing referendums more often, this University will benefit from getting more accurate student feedback on important issues. SG will also benefit by listening to their constituents and proposing issues to be put on a student referendum. Students will surely benefit as well from being able to vote on issues they care about in a direct manner.
Hung is a second year law student from Brownsville.