Campus political groups’ practices hinder involvement

by Libby George

Many parents fear university life will pull their children into extreme political action and protest.

Maybe on a different campus, but students pursuing political involvement at the University are often pulled into outdated Web links, disconnected phones and incomplete student group listings by the very groups they seek.

While opportunities do exist for students to get involved with the Democratic, Green, Libertarian and Republican parties, the Greens are no longer an official University organization, and the University DFL is not listed on the Student Activities Office Web site.

Additionally confusing are two separate Republican groups. Differing opinions on “how to accomplish our mission” caused an official split at the end of last year, College Republicans chairman Tyler Richter said.

This makes finding the groups – and getting involved – difficult for students.

Visibility, accessibility

Even though 90 percent of students register online, only the College Republicans and the Campus Libertarians have links to active Web sites from the Student Activities Office page.

“We’re definitely striving to make us more visible every day,” Richter said. He added while the group does not have an office in Coffman Union or anywhere else on campus, its “electronic office” is all it needs.

Their counterparts, the Campus Republicans, have a Web site, but it is out of date and not accessible from the Student Activities Office Web site. The site does not list member names or phone numbers, but the chairman responded to an e-mail within hours.

The Campus Libertarians have a link to a Web site, but the most recent event featured was in November. The site does, however, list ideas – including debates with other groups on campus – which the group hopes to organize after spring break.

The Campus Greens – who have not been a registered student group since last spring – still have contact information posted on the Green Party of Minnesota Web site, but the contact listed no longer has the same telephone number and did not reply to e-mails.

Perhaps the most discouraging for curious students, however, is the University DFL Web site, which President Andy Pomroy said is “unfortunately very late in getting updated.”

While the e-mail contact is still active, the site features a banner ad encouraging visitors to “vote Wellstone” and a survey about the DFL’s priorities, which include re-electing Sen. Paul Wellstone.

The senator was killed in a plane crash Oct. 25.

Pomroy said updating the site is a priority as soon as he can get money to buy new software.

While the University DFL does have an office in Coffman – the only group with this distinction – Pomroy said it is currently only used for storage.

Becoming active

While finding things to do is never a problem during elections – when the groups are all active – staying involved during the periods between elections can be a challenge.

“When there’s not campaigns, it’s like, ‘What do we do?’ ” Pomroy said. He added it is difficult to make students act as a group outside elections because they are participating in internships and the University DFL becomes “lower priority.”

Pomroy added that while current activity involves mostly e-mailing, their weekly meetings are now focusing on finding events.

That’s not the case for either Republican group. Both have been actively seeking new members by staffing tables in Coffman Union, planning activities and working to raise awareness of their organizations.

“We’re generally working on recruiting students for student government and student fees,” Campus Republicans chairman Dan Nelson said. He added they are also in the preliminary stages of starting a conservative newspaper or newsletter on campus.

“As Republicans, we think it is important to get our opinion expressed,” Nelson said.

They are also planning an “affirmative action bake sale,” which would charge different prices based on the buyer’s race and gender as a “parody of what we see as unfair practices at the University,” Nelson said.

The College Republicans will host the group’s state convention Saturday, which Republican leaders Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Sen. Norm Coleman will attend.

Working the barriers

While the University DFL enjoys unity on campus, the Republicans are plagued by division.

“The average student probably thinks we’re the same group,” Nelson said. He added that the Campus Republicans focus on getting students involved politically on campus, and the College Republicans – part of an official state group – are more focused on big-picture projects such as elections.

The Greens cite diversion created by similar groups as the primary reason they are no longer a student group.

“While the Green Party is the only party to stand for nonviolence as one of its founding principles, I think the antiwar movement on campus evolved in such a way as to frown upon any other sort of activity that wasn’t solely and specifically organized around the impending actions of the (United States) against Iraq,” said Lani Hogan, a University graduate who was active with Campus Greens.

Kellie Burriss, a University student and Green Party activist, said potential campus party members were diverted by the state party, either by running for offices or managing campaigns, but she was “pretty sure that next year (they will) get something going before elections.”

Libby George covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]