[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Universities must listen to student councils

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[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Universities must listen to student councils

The university student body election season is over, but not all of the student council offices of universities nationwide are filled with energetic people and new faces. According to recent news reports, Seoul National University (SNU) could not elect a student council this year due to a lack of participation by voters. This happened even though the election period was stretched out.
Compared with the situation at SNU, I would say Ewha and other universities, including Korea and Hanyang, were “fortunate” enough to elect the new student council after extending the election period. But the fact the voting rate barely reached 50 percent in such universities even after extending the election period is not comforting.
For such poor participation in the elections, much of the news coverage has blamed students’ political apathy.
As one of many examples, the Campus Commentary on Nov. 29, written by a reporter attending Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said, “there are still too many students thinking that the student council election is insignificant and that it has nothing to do with them personally.”
Although part of that is true, I do not believe it is fair to put the blame entirely on students for the low voting rate.
This is because students’ indifference in exercising their political rights is merely the tip of the iceberg of a bigger problem.
The reason students are uninterested is not thatthere are more important things in their lives, rather, it is simply that students do not consider the student council to be effective. Thus, whatever public pledges they come with, the students know the student council will eventually be crushed by the school. So why bother to vote?
Student bodies are ineffective because the school hardly budges at the suggestions the student council makes. Tuition hikes are a major example. This year, the president and vice president of Fighting Ewha, the 38th student council of Ewha Womans University, carried out numerous activities, such as paying tuition in 1,000 won notes each sealed in plastic and joining together in a long belt and shaving their heads to protest high tuition.
Despite this, the student council failed to negotiate a decrease in the tuition. Not even 0.1 percent.
It is hard to find news that student bodies have succeeded in getting many of their agenda items accomplished.
If universities do not perceive the student council to be a negotiating partner and hardly allow any room for compromise, the “ineffective” activities of the student council will continue to disappoint students and this will continue to lead to low participation in student council elections.
The student council’s status should be elevated and the university should perceive it more as a partner and negotiator than as a small group of disgruntled students. That way, more constructive discussions will take place, leading to satisfying resolutions.
When many of the councils’ needs are met, students will get to see how effective and relevant their student councils are and the chronic problem of low participation in student body elections will be resolved.

*The writer is the editor of Ewha Voice, the English newspaper of Ewha Womans University.

by Shim Keum-jo

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