After years of declining participation rates, the 2006 Student Government Association election saw a turnout of 2,800 students, roughly seven times higher than the number of votes cast in the previous year’s election.
Reasons for the upturn in votes from students are varied, though several major decisions affecting students that were made in the past year were hot issues.
One significant topic was the revision of the Withdrawal Policy. Prior to this semester, students were limited to one withdrawal per class designation (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior), with two additional withdrawals designated as “floaters.” The current policy now makes all six withdrawals available for students at any time. Any additional withdrawals past the six allotted results in an automatic WF for those classes.
The amendment was passed in part to reduce the chances of students shopping for classes to take for the semester, which in the past has made it harder for other students to register for classes marked as full. Safeguards are in place to protect students – to a certain point. Students can also withdraw from all of their classes in a semester twice if necessary without penalty.
Another point of interest for students was the introduction of the Plus/Minus grading system. Georgia State University is now one of two institutions in the University System of Georgia to use the system, the other school being the University of Georgia. As students are aware of by this point, professors and departments now have the option of using grades of A-, B+, B-, C+ and C-, in addition to the standard grades of A, B, C, D and F.
With both the Withdrawal Policy and the Plus/Minus grading system causing significant discussion among students, SGA Senators proposed a Student Academic Bill of Rights to assist students. The bill specified that course instructors provide a syllabus to students on the first scheduled day of class; all syllabi, as defined by the bill, would include the course objectives, criteria for determining course grades, a course calendar, and any applicable departmental policies for the course.
The University Senate ultimately adopted the following measure: all teaching faculty shall provide at or before the first meeting of a class, each term, a copy of a course syllabus to each student in their classes. The syllabus may be distributed either electronically or in print.
Students were also driven by other organizations to vote this year by the organizational endorsements of particular candidates.
Pamela Anthony, director of Student Life and Leadership, also credits the upswing in voter turnout to another source: the previous SGA administration. As the faculty advisor for the organization, she sees the increased voter turnout as the result of the previous administration’s desire for more student participation in the election process.
Part of what SGA did to ease student participation was to reduce the steps necessary for voting. Voting is conducted online through WebCT, and in previous years, the steps required for students to vote were massive and time-intensive. In the spring 2006 elections, the number of steps was reduced to five.
After roughly 400 students participated in the 2005 SGA elections, down from 850 students in the 2004 SGA elections and a record 1,500 students in 2002, the increase in student turnout to ten percent of the entire student body is impressive. The question many people – both students and faculty – involved with student life on campus are curious about now is whether or not the numbers will be able to improve in the next few years.
Anthony believes that student involvement can improve in future years, as long as members of SGA are willing to do what last year’s administration did and actively promote and pursue opportunities to inform students about opportunities to vote.
The answer, of course, will not become clear until the next election cycle. With the new record behind the organization now, it would be wise for SGA to continue the legacy of the previous administration and push for more student awareness about elections.