Bucking a trend toward apathy

Chris Vetter

Student apathy toward politics is growing, according to recent research. Even in this election year when politics is usually on peoples’ minds, fewer students are discussing the issues.
Research conducted by the American Council on Education, with the University of California-Los Angeles, shows that in 1995 fewer than one in six college freshmen reported having discussed politics in the previous year. The figure is down from one in four in 1970.
The University does have several political clubs on campus, however, where students of like minds can meet regularly. All the clubs are open to the public and free, although there are membership dues for full-fledged members.
The following are profiles of some of the more active groups on campus affiliated with political parties.
The University Democrats, often referred to as the U-DFL, are prominent on campus. U-DFL generally has 40-50 active members, and has been influential in getting members elected to the Minnesota Student Association, the University’s student governing body. Current MSA president Helen Phin is a former U-DFL president.
Todd Hauger, a 1996 graduate and member of the U-DFL for three years, said the meetings are a good place to meet other students and visit with politicians.
“Meetings are very informal, very low-key,” Hauger said. “It is a good chance to meet elected officials.” Congressmen Bruce Vento and Martin Sabo and Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton have spoken at past meetings.
U-DFL meetings are held Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.on the third floor of Coffman Memorial Union.
College Republicans
The College Republicans are also a very active group on and off campus.
“We have a two-fold purpose,” said College of Liberal Arts senior Orlando Ochoada. “We get college students involved in politics and campaigns off campus, and we get them involved in student activities on campus.”
The group has about 20 active members, Ochoada said.
Dave Mortensen, an Institute of Technology junior, said the College Republicans have opposed a number of frivolous resolutions in MSA, such as those opposing American Red Cross blood-donor policies or the purchase of California table grapes. They also try to curb student service fees. Student service fees are mandatory fees that all University students who take more than six credits pay in their tuition. These fees have risen each year.
The College Republicans regularly bring in speakers to their meetings. Past speakers include Rep. Jim Ramstad and Minnesota congressional candidates Jack Uldrich and Dennis Newinski. Allen Quist, a 1994 gubernatorial candidate, also spoke at a recent meeting.
Ochoada said the group is active in off-campus campaigns. He said 10 members went to Duluth for the Republican state convention in May to help out then-Senate candidate Bert McKasy.
The College Republicans meet Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on the third floor of Coffman Memorial Union.
League of Women Voters
The League of Women Voters brings female political role models to speak on campus and educates people about candidates.
University students started a chapter of the nonpartisan league on campus last year. They plan to organize political debates this election year.
New chapter President Jenny Halko, a College of Liberal Arts junior, said the election will help her group grow.
“This is a great year to do this,” Halko said. The election should help attract new members to the group, she said.
The League of Women Voters will meet once a month on a Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Coffman Memorial Union.
College Libertarians
The University has not had a College Libertarians group since 1994, when the last group folded because its members graduated.
President Shannon Daniels, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore, said she has worked very hard to get the new group together and is ready for the group to kick off with their first meeting on Tuesday.
Libertarian philosophy features a fiscally conservative, socially liberal message that is growing among college-age students, Daniels said.
Daniels said Libertarian meetings will be fun to attend.
“After spending three to four hours in classes, you don’t want to go to a boring meeting,” Daniels said.
The College Libertarians will meet every Monday at 7 p.m. in the conference room in Middlebrook Hall on the West Bank campus.