Opinion: Osprey voices fall on deaf ears

Cassidy Alexander

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In the past school year, Student Government has chosen to undertake a number of questionable initiatives aimed at improving student life on campus. They come at no small price to UNF, and with little regard to actual student interest.

In September of this year, SG decided to contribute $25,000 to build a veterans’ memorial park on campus, to little enthusiasm from students. As Senator Louis Reich told Spinnaker, “I think it’s something students want, I just don’t think it’s something most students want.”

SG knows what students want on this matter because they conducted an Osprey Voice survey. Osprey Voice surveys are meant to gauge student interest on a wide variety of topics. In this survey, students ranked the memorial park as their 14th priority out of 17.

Former SG Director of Communications Ryan Traher said that if students disagree with SG’s choices, they should talk to a senator or speak at meetings. They should absolutely start using their voice. It was silence at the polls that led to another year without elections and a new president who only had to high-five his predecessor to take office. But student disinterest in senatorial processes is not a reason to disregard the results of an Osprey Voice survey showing an initiative as far down on the list of things students care about as 14th.

Yet the memorial park is not an isolated incident. Around the same time that Joseph Turner took office in March, SG was also approved to spend $49,200 on a new lounge in the Student Union. This was SG Vice President Anthony Stevens’ proposal put into action.4

initiative02Most recently, SG is working to build a statue of Ozzie Osprey. The UNF Art Committee, headed by Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, approved the plans with six in favor. The statue will cost $39,000, not including the base it will stand on, according to the Executive Assistant to Dr. Gonzalez, Mary McConville. SG listened to a survey they put out asking students if they would like a statue of Ozzie the Osprey. The survey did not include the cost, the design, the placement – anything beyond a simple, innocuous question. So Dr. Gonzalez will now meet with President Delaney for final approval on the plans. A location has not been chosen, but a committee member will be meeting with SG’s President and Vice President to decide a site and bring it back to the committee for approval. There has been discussion it might be placed in the loop outside of the Student Union so graduating students can take a photo and high-five Ozzie on their way out of UNF.

In the past year, SG has conducted 11 Osprey Voice surveys, almost none of which have had to do with opinion on SG initiatives. They ask questions like, “What do you think can be put in UNF recycling bins?” and “Do you know what the UNF traditions project is?” On the occasions that SG does ask about something they’re considering, like the veterans’ memorial park, they disregard the poor results and proceed with their plan anyway. So where is SG getting the confidence that they are acting in accordance with what the students of UNF want?

Turner told the Spinnaker that SG does not have a direct democracy, but a party full of student-elected representatives. So why bother asking their opinion when SG just knows what they want? This would be a perfectly adequate system – if it were able to give the students what they want. Aside from wondering why SG doesn’t care about what the students want, I have to wonder why SG wants the things we are getting – new lounge furniture, a statue of our mascot and a memorial park? Stevens told Spinnaker that SG “wanted some kind of atmosphere where [students] would be comfortable.”

Again, without the students’ approval either way, SG denied Spinnaker radio the nearly $40,000 it needs to play on the FM dial – currently it can be accessed online or on your TV at channel 171. The radio is finally close to gaining something almost every other college radio station in the state has and SG is the only thing standing in their way. “This project does not have to be done on the backs of students, with student fee revenue,” Turner told Spinnaker. Although he supports the idea of a university radio station, he disagrees with SG funding it because of the students’ alleged disapproval. What if the students would have wanted their fees used for something like this? There is no way of knowing – Turner could absolutely be right, and students might not want it to be funded with their fees.

initiative03It always comes back to this: UNF is struggling to shed its commuter campus reputation, and wants students to want to stay on campus. Everything about UNF tends to come back to this. But will a statue that students can high-five and a few hammocks really make or break someone’s decision to stay on our campus? Of course not. SG seems to be operating under the assumption that students – even prospective students – don’t care about anything other than a place to sit and stationary objects to interact with.

They need to ask us for input because they can’t know, and most of the time they do. But they need to be more thorough, more engaging, and most importantly actually heed the results of their own surveys. Students would rather have $49,200 worth of 13 other things before they wanted a park. And I recognize the fact that this money is budgeted out in advance, but how can a system be working if it makes it impossible for the budget to be re-evaluated?

Does SG do a good job of representing what you want? If you long for hammocks by the Student Union and a memorial park within steps of your last class, then your answer is easy. But if you disagree with the way that SG has spent $113,200 in the past year, tell them, and change the way things are done at UNF. Make it so they have to listen to your voice.