Plebiscite reaction reflects unconcern for student opinion

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

“It is still my firm position that if students were made fully aware, in a very direct way, of the cost of limiting those sales in Mustang Alley to student programming " which I know they value " the result may have been very different.”

That was University Students’ Council VP-university affairs David Simmonds’ response to the students’ choice to vote against selling cigarettes in Mustang Alley in the recent plebiscite question. What a wonderful use of the democratic process.

My first advice to the USC for the next time it wants to get student opinion is to formulate the question in a way with which it is happy.

That seems pretty simple, but apparently was beyond the USC’s grasp before this year’s election.

More importantly, I’d suggest the USC avoid asking questions if it does not intend to listen to the answer.

The prevailing attitude echoed in the Board of Directors’ response to the plebiscite question seems to be that the results are tainted because students didn’t fully comprehend what they were voting on.

How dare the USC ask for student input and then suggest we weren’t qualified to form that opinion?

Did it really expect every student voting to read through the financial ramifications? Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen.

So if an income statement for Mustang Alley was necessary to make the decision, why bother sending the vote to students? Why waste time and money on a plebiscite question if you don’t think we can give a qualified answer?

Most importantly, why bother considering banning cigarettes from Mustang Alley if you’ve already decided it’s not financially viable? After all, isn’t that the message in council’s statements?

This is the danger the USC faced when it decided to send the cigarette question to a plebiscite: if the students voted ‘Yes’, council’s prior decision would be verified.

But now that campus has voted no, the USC is in the awkward position of making an incredibly foolish financial decision or directly contradicting student input, after wasting resources in an attempt to feign some interest in that opinion.

This is the fundamental flaw of any plebiscite question. There’s no point in asking if you already know the answer.

Simmonds is absolutely right: most students probably would have voted ‘Yes’ had they known the financial impact of selling cigarettes in Mustang Alley. To be honest, we’re not qualified to make this decision.

And that’s exactly why this question should never have gone to the wider student body. The USC knew full well the average student wouldn’t look over the budget before deciding and its members’ current statements make it clear that it thinks the budget is an integral part of the decision-making process.

So USC, the next time you can’t come to a consensus on an issue, think long and hard before you pass it on to the next level. And if it’s not something you think students can answer, don’t bother asking the question.

The only alternative is to ask our opinion while fully knowing you have no intention of taking our views into account " just like you did two weeks ago.

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