May 18, 2012

Steep divide at polls between grad schools

Graduate students were a force in this year’s Student Government (SG) election, turning out in far greater numbers than they did in 2011. The 803 graduate students from across the University who voted, comprised about a third of participation overall—significantly up from the 258 who voted last year.

But voting data also shows stark contrasts among the graduate student body, with certain divisions appearing deeply invested in the outcome of SG elections, and others seeming not to care at all.

The fact that second-year Law student Renard Miller was on the ticket for SG President boosted voter turnout among his peers: nearly half the Law School voted, its 330 ballots making up for 41.2 percent of total graduate participation.

“I shook most of the hands in Law School,” Miller said.

Public Policy graduate students also gave a strong showing, with about 27 percent of their number casting their ballot.

However, participation in certain divisions amounted barely to a couple dozen students, and to even fewer in others.

In the School of Social Service Administration, for example, just seven out of 491 students voted. And in the Biological Sciences Division, only three students, out of 456, cast their vote.

Sapana Vora, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in cancer biology who did not vote this year, attributes the department’s low participation to a perceived lack of SG impact.

“BSD [biological sciences division] grad students don’t feel any SG decisions will affect their graduate careers in any meaningful way,” she said. “BSD grad students enjoy much closer access to committee and departmental administrators who make and implement academic policy very relevant to graduate careers.”

Many of the graduate divisions have their own governing committees, though each is organized differently. The Medical School elects three to four representatives for each class to the Dean’s Council in fall quarter.

“[The] Medical school is an isolated community. We have our own student government,” said Marcus Dahlstrom, a fourth-year Pritzker School of Medicine student. Thirty-four of Pritzker’s 386 students voted.

The flip side of that isolation—personal connections to the people running for office—may have been a draw for voters in other divisions.

Graduate liaison–elect Kathryn Hagerman, a student at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, pulled in voters from her dual disciplines in the Harris School and the division of social sciences.

“Most of the people in Middle Eastern studies voted because Kathryn is running,” said Nadia Qazi, a first-year CMES graduate student. Of the 1,289 students in the social sciences division, 82 voted.

Vice President–elect for student affairs Yusef Al-Jarani, a first-year in the College, said he hopes to reach out to those who are less involved.

“Connect will work extensively with leaders from different divisions to raise more awareness of SG,” he said.