Antiwar student group holds campus referendum

Mary Stegmeir

Dr. Miguel Fiol, Fairview-University Epilepsy Care Center director, thought of his friends in Saudi Arabia when he cast his vote in a campus-wide antiwar referendum Wednesday.

Organized by Students Against War, the event allowed students, staff and faculty with a valid University ID card to vote on a resolution calling for opposition to war with Iraq.

One thousand four people voted on the referendum, with 860 votes cast in favor and 144 votes against.

Fiol, who worked at King Faisal Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from 1995-99, was in the majority against U.S. military action, saying his acquaintances from Saudi Arabia feared for the well-being of their Iraqi neighbors.

“I don’t feel that Iraq is a threat to us,” he said, after casting his ballot for the resolution at Moos Tower, one of the five voting locations set up across campus for the referendum.

“We should act with the international community – not unilaterally,” Fiol said. “I feel a lot of innocent people are going to be killed.”

Thirty-five volunteers ran polling stations at Coffman Union, Willey Hall, Moos Tower, Folwell Hall and the St. Paul Student Center throughout the day.

In a letter to The Minnesota Daily, two Carlson School of Management graduate students criticized the vote, saying the results were rigged.

“It is a fraudulent vote sponsored by biased organizations,” wrote Jon Bottema and Matt Audette. “Ultimately, the vote will fail to discover anything new. Fringe leftist groups on the University of Minnesota campus, and many faculty members, do not support war – even if it keeps them safe at night.”

The two also said there was no need for a student vote because students do not generally vote on specific public policy matters.

Students Against War members based their referendum on a resolution passed by the Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council.

The group’s resolution called for opposition to a “unilateral pre-emptive war against Iraq.”

The resolution stated the war could affect the University “in terms of potential loss of life and disability among our members of the armed forces.”

According to the resolution, a war with Iraq would also divert funding from higher education to cover war expenses.

“It illustrates a lot of the domestic and international implications of going to war,” said Nathan Mittelstaedt, a Students Against War member who helped draft the resolution.

“I’m hoping that it passes and that it sends some sort of message to the wider community,” he said.

Mittelstaedt said the referendum results would be distributed to state, city and campus government officials.

Alison de Geus, who also helped write the resolution, said the vote provided a clearer picture of University opposition to war.

“We want as many people to vote as possible, so that however the vote turns out, it’s an accurate representation of the University,” said de Gues as she prepared her Willey Hall polling site early Wednesday.

“The most important thing is for people to just come and exercise their freedom of speech.”

She said Hamline University and Macalester College, both located in St. Paul, recently joined the ranks of a growing number of colleges and universities across the country that have passed similar resolutions.

Mary Stegmeir welcomes comments at [email protected]