Friday, January 19, 2007

Issue of the Day: Student Apathy

Student apathy is a constant nagging theme threading through AMS affairs. "Students just don't care" is a detrimental attitude into which is sometimes too easy to sink as an executive, AMS Councillor, or observer. Just look at the voter turnout, they say: as several candidates have pointed out in this election, it's peaked at 13% and usually hovers around a dismal 10% . From a campus of 42,000 students, it is argued that it's a pathetic number on which to base a claim to be 'representative' of the student body.

But perhaps it is the very fact that this campus is so large that it is particularly difficult to achieve some sense of unity. The University of Toronto is by far the largest university in Canada, but it has the advantage of partitioned into smaller colleges, which in turn act as independent, manageable-sized campuses. So this leaves us with the largest student union - the AMS of the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia. We also have a physically large campus, with no central "hub." This means people feel more affinity to clubs (administered by the AMS), their residences, friends, sports teams... Also, we're largely a commuter campus, which means UBC is just a place to spend a day, rather than "life."

Look comparatively - the AMS voter turnout is no worse, really, than any other comparable University. And youth voter apathy is a constant problem, not just limited to the AMS - look at how few students vote in federal and provincial elections. Heck, even municipal government elections are lucky to have voter turnout around 20%. Consider referenda: when Vancouver held a referendum on a ward system, fewer than 40% turned out, compared to over 50% turnout for the referendum at UBC about the U-Pass.

So we'd ask the following:
  • Are students really as apathetic as we think?
  • Is the lack of voting really a good measurement of apathy? Is voter education worth the effort?
  • Ought we to concentrate on engaging more students in UBC affairs, or on engaging the small number more meaningfully?
  • What does "apathy" even mean?