It's not just the mayor's race that's greeted with the deafening silence of miserable turnout. Students at the University of Pittsburgh gave a resounding "eh" when asked if they'd like to continue receiving daily copies of USA Today and The New York Times. The president of the Student Government Board wants more students to weigh in, but one board member is criticizing him, saying that the apathy of most students speaks volumes already.
Through the Collegiate Readership Program, the papers had been delivered to dorm lobbies and the student union. The program, on a free trial basis this term, can continue for a fee of $5 per student each school year. That means every student's activity fee would go up from $80 to $85, whether they pick up the paper or not. And most wouldn't be able to anyway -- there are about 17,000 students at Pitt's main campus; the program would deliver 700 copies of each paper every day.
The student-government board put the issue to a vote in a referendum on the recent SGB elections, held Nov. 8. The decision is ultimately up to the administration; but if the measure had passed, SGB planned to pass a resolution urging Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey to authorize the fee hike. Of the 17,000 students eligible to vote in the election, only 3,401 cast ballots. Of those, less than half -- 1,522 -- voted on the newspaper issue, with 58 percent favoring the fee hike.
Since turnout was so low, board president Shady Henien reopened the online polls until Dec. 14, the last day of finals. "The results have escalated so high from when I reopened [the polls]," he says. As of Nov. 19, an additional 1,200 students had voted on the referendum, and the ratio of favorable votes remained about the same, says board member Erin Schaefer.
"It's going to influence the entire student body for years to come," Henien said of the fee increase. "We need to understand what the students want." But, he says, busy students are "bombarded" with polls, and don't have time to keep track of everything open for their input. The students were recently asked to vote for the homecoming court in time for festivities on Oct. 20. By keeping the polls open, SGB can make an informed decision, he says.
Whether the program polls favorably or not, Henien says, he wants to continue bringing the papers to campus. "If it doesn't get student support, we're going to find out why -- was it the funding? If it's clear that students do not want to pay $5, we'll find other means to go ahead and do it."
But board member Schaefer says that the matter should be closed, and that the students have shown they don't support the program, even though most votes cast were in favor of it.
"It was attached to the election of our new board," Schaefer says. "When that election ended, our polls should have closed." She says Henien reopened the polls without informing the rest of the board.
"[Schaefer]'s entitled to say what ever she wishes to say," says Henien. "For her to say, 'close the polls' I don't think that was a judicious decision to make that remark."
But, says Schaefer, turnout so far still hasn't been enough: The administration wants to hear from 5,000 students before it will authorize the fee hike.
Schaefer stressed that she is not against the program per se, but that the handful of students who cast ballots shouldn't decide whether 17,000 students will all see a $5 increase. She also added that people who don't pay the fee -- graduate students, members of the public -- could take advantage of the program, as the papers are simply delivered to racks in public buildings.
Students informally polled by CP supported the program, though not all of them voted. Sophomore Janine Glasson didn't vote in the referendum initially on Nov. 8 because she was unaware of it, but plans to vote in favor of it now. "So many more people voted in the SGB elections than [on] the referendum," she says. "I didn't even know the referendum was going on. Someone dropped the ball with that one."
Racks in the student union bore signs urging students to "Vote Today!!! Vote 'Yes' if you want daily access to USA Today and The New York Times to continue next fall." A copy of last weekend's USA Today, the only paper on the racks Monday morning, had a sticker advising students to vote.
Senior Jennifer Williamson voted for the program, and said many of her roommates and friends also support it. "It's good to let students have a vote -- it is their money. It's important to give students a choice. If they're saying no, they're saying no."
But they aren't saying no. They just aren't saying yes, either.