While perusing the latest Hack Week edition of Woroni, one of the statements of a candidate for the position of Arts Faculty Representative caught my eye: “That the arts student body is wide-spread and under represented is . . . well-known”. This is so blatantly false as to be hilarious. According to ANU’s 2011 Annual Report, 29% of equivalent full-time student loads are performed under the College of Arts and Social Sciences. Despite arts students only comprising about one third of the student populace, two thirds of the out-going ANUSA executive study at least one arts degree. Similarly, about two thirds of the various tickets’ candidates for executive positions are enrolled in at least one degree administered by CASS.
If you wish to find a member of a cohort that actually is wide-spread and under represented, look no further than your nearest science or engineering student. Approximately one third of Equivalent Full-Time Study Loads are performed under the Science or Engineering faculties, slightly more than do Arts. Out of the 20 candidates for the 2013 ANUSA executive, only one is studying a science degree, and none engineering. Emblematic of the ridiculous lack of involvement of science students in ANUSA was this year’s ballot paper, which described a representative for the “College of Physical Sciences”. No such college exists – it is in fact the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (CPMS), as any visit to the ANU website could confirm. This is the sort of obvious mistake that, while harmless, could only be made in the absence of any student of physics or maths.
How did this situation occur? Ticket formation at ANU is done in such a way that the only people who end up on tickets are those in the social groups of the student politicos. These end up being mostly arts and law students, barring one finance/actuarial student to be treasurer, and a few others to fill up the faculty representative candidacies. Science and engineering students will never be invited to a ticket except as a token fac rep, and may not even be aware that ANUSA elections are looming until we are accosted by candidates during the week of the elections. They look at the situation and realise that ANU’s political class does not intersect with their own. Given this chasm between their own world and that of student politics, these students inevitably become apathetic and fail to vote. In this way, the problem self-perpetuates. Science and engineering students don’t vote, so when forming tickets, winning the votes of arts students – the people who actually choose who governs ANUSA – is prioritised. This is done by filling tickets with arts students, who will hopefully get votes from their arts student friends. Consequently, science and engineering students neither feature on tickets nor know any candidates, and so their disconnect with student politics only deepens.
This issue – which also significantly affects international students and those who don’t live on campus – causes more problems than inhibiting the affected students’ abilities to kick off a career in politics. It leads to an ANUSA dominated by a narrow demographic, and a lack of diverse perspectives on the varied challenges that it has to face. It also means that ANUSA is necessarily less responsive to the concerns of these students, as tickets do not need to seriously consider the needs of students who don’t vote when drafting their policies – another vicious cycle driving disengagement.
The next question is this: how can we make ANUSA more representative of the full diversity of students? Alas, the nature of vicious cycles is that they are not simple to escape from. Tickets may try to reach out to the affected groups, but in the face of a swathe of the student population who believe that student politics has nothing to offer them, I fear that government of the domestic campus-dwelling arts students, by the domestic campus-dwelling arts students, for the domestic campus-dwelling arts students, shall not perish from the ANU.