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Survey: Students dont know MSA

CEditorís note: This article is the first in a three-part series that looks at issues affecting the Minnesota Student Association. Todayís article examines MSAís effectiveness and influence.

Come finals, each undergraduate will have paid less than the cost of a meal at University Dining Services to the Minnesota Student Association in Student Services Fees.

When all is said and done and the fees are combined, more than $100,000 will go to MSA so it can advocate for student issues like housing and tuition, as well as address presumed social concerns.

The issues are student issues. The money is student money. The problem, too, is a student problem.

Student apathy and the sheer size of the Twin Cities campus are mentioned as the probable reasons for the ongoing issue MSA and other campus organizations face ó that so few students seem to know what it is or what it does.

In December the Daily surveyed students to better gauge opinions of student government organizations.

One percent of respondents indicated they were well informed about student government issues, while 18 percent indicated they were somewhat informed.

Fifty-two percent said they were not very well informed, and 28 percent indicated they were not at all informed.

Of undergraduate respondents, 3 percent said they were well informed and 16 percent said they were somewhat informed.

Steve Wang, a student representative to the Board of Regents, said the results of the Dailyís survey are a ìperfect example” of how hard it is to attract students to a group on campus for which they donít have the ìutmost motivation.”

ìThe hard thing with students is that everybody likes to complain, but nobody wants to do anything about it,” Wang said.

In addition, the number of issues MSA deals with can be daunting to some people, he said.

English junior Scott Radunzel said he has ìno real reason” to know what MSA is up to and most of the information he learns about MSA is through the Daily.

For Radunzel, ever-increasing tuition is a prime concern.

He said there is really nothing he or MSA can do to stop the increase; itís on the state government.

If MSA did impact tuition rates positively, Radunzel said, he would be inclined to pay more attention.

ìIf they could get the job done, they will have my ear,” he said.

In addition to the omnipresent issue of tuition, Forum members have worked to secure student involvement during the Universityís realignment, address housing issues and have called for the administration to inquire into Coca-Colaís business practice abroad.

Power of influence

But for all the resolutions, position statements and general posturing that might come out of MSA, the sad reality for some is that under University policy, the administration isnít officially required to consider MSAís opinion when making decisions that affect students.

The most prominent example in recent years is the Universityís decision to close the General College in spite of MSA officially opposing its closure.

MSA Vice President Colin Schwensohn said the University already had made up its mind on the General College by the time MSA issued its official opinion.

ìThe University was determined to go forward with their decision; that was pretty evident,” he said. ìIím not sure that anybody could have changed their minds.”

However, Schwensohn said, the student government and the University have a good relationship.

While that relationship might be as good as Schwensohn claims, when the University and MSA do disagree and go head-to-head, the University usually comes out on top.

Such epic confrontations are infrequent, leaving administrators and student-leaders the opportunity to work with, rather than against, one another.

In addition to student representatives to the Board of Regents, MSA has a voice in University governance through Forum members who also serve on the University Senate.

Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for Student Affairs, said that while there are several organizations that speak for students, MSA and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly are viewed differently.

They are the ones the administration solicits responses from and attempts to be responsive to, he said.

ìTo the extent that anyone represents the students on this campus, those groups probably come the closest, although itís never a perfect representation,” he said.

Student Senate Vice Chairman Rick Orr, who also serves on the Executive Board of MSA, said sometimes people call MSA a ìpep squad” for the administration, which isnít correct, but MSA and the administration canít actively fight.

ìAs much as it pains the administration sometimes to admit it, they need the students, they want the students to be along with what theyíre doing,” he said. ìAnd they do turn to MSA to find out (its) opinion.”

The organization needs to work hard to find student opinion, Orr said, but somewhere along the line there has been a disconnect between MSA and the student body.

Orr said that while MSA has done a good job addressing the possible on-campus football stadium, it has shied away from on-campus issues that ìimmediately affect the students.”

Earlier this year, MSA reaffirmed its support of student fees going to an on-campus football stadium.

In the Dailyís survey, 42 percent of all student respondents and 47 percent of undergraduate respondents indicated they were ìstrongly opposed” to a new stadium being paid for in part by student fees.

Rinehart said he understands the response.

ìIíd be shocked if a poll showed students wanted more money to come out of their pockets,” he said. ìThey feel the concreteness of money out of their pocket.”

Because of the short-term nature of studentsí stay at the University, Rinehart said, they might not be able to visualize the loss of programs because of lack of funding.

Carly Moberg, an animal science sophomore, said she feels bad enough for students because of what theyíre paying now and wouldnít want students to be required to pay for something they might not use.

ìI wouldnít want to pay that,” she said. ìAll these little fees you have keep adding up ó they say $2 for this or that, itís fine. But it all adds up in the end.”

She said an optional fee that could support the stadium might be a good solution.

Orr, who earlier in the year proposed an amendment that effectively eliminated MSA calling for an undergraduate opt-out, said it is not an option.

The University would not be able to get a loan to build an on-campus stadium if student funding fluctuated yearly, he said.

ìUs going to the University and putting in a resolution that says we would like an opt-out fee weakens MSAís credibility, because itís not going to happen,” he said. ìThereís no way the administration would even consider an opt-out from undergrads.”

Charles Aslesen-Rekela, Sarah Hansen and The Minnesota Daily’s Survey Research Department conducted this survey from December 7, 2005 to December 12, 2005. The invitation to participate was sent to official University email addresses of a random sample of 2,000 students registered during the Fall 2005 semester. The maximum margin of sampling error for percentages based on the 278 respondents is 5.4 percentage points, plus or minus, at a 95 percent confidence level.

If you have any questions regarding this survey or the methodology used, please contact Anna Leisa Sauser at [email protected]

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