We’ve traipsed back from mid-semester, grudgingly faced assignments that should have been started earlier and are already counting down the days until a real holiday. Between now and then are the exams, essays, emails, extensions, excuses and all other things that start with ‘e’ – including elections.
Oh student elections. This time around we’re electing board directors to the USU, our campus-wide champion of the onesie and marketing focused parent of Manning and Hermann’s. It’s easy to write off the mess of coloured t-shirts and cringe worthy slogans as being the irrelevant noise of student politicians whose need for public validation is matched only by their willingness to promise you anything. This may be (read: probably is) true, but, mess and slogans aside, the process of student democracy and its outcomes should not be quickly dismissed.
Superficially, the first reason student elections are worth caring about is how much you have already invested into organisations like the USU. Last year a quarter of the Student Services fee that you paid to the university was allocated to the Union – in other words $70 per student, just over $3 million in total, is given over to the decision making of those students elected to the board.
Who cares? Well, if one truth emerged from the recent Raue saga it’s that the USU board is capable of spending student money on all sorts of things, including the cost of defending in court a failed attempt to oust the duly elected vice-president of the board. The Union hasn’t disclosed how much was spent in this . An exact figure is almost beside the point, because the example itself is enough to illustrate that the elected figures – yes, with their tshirts, slogan and cheesy videos – are responsible for spending your cash, even in situations when it is unclear why it is in the student interest. Anyone as broke as most students are cares where there money goes and how it is being spent, student elections give us just a little bit of control over who gets to do that spending.
If you don’t care about money, or prefer a principled approach to things, your second reason to care when the ballot arrives is for the sake of student control itself. Long past are the glory days of democratic learning when students were allowed to vote in department meetings. In contrast, it’s not so long ago that the University attempted to wrest control of the USU’s commercial operations away from students. There are worthy critiques to be made of the methods and decisions of student representatives and board directors, but at the end of the day the needs and interests of student will always be best served by their own and can be defended by simply casting a vote.
Student democracy – however inconvenient, annoying or downright obnoxious – should be embraced wherever we can get it, because at least we have it.