Sean McMinn is a journalism junior and Mustang Daily freelance reporter.
Student advisory. It’s easy to miss those two words on the slew of signs around Cal Poly encouraging students to “VOTE” whether or not they want the school to convert to semesters.
But those two words are key in understanding what this vote means. And more importantly, they’re key for knowing if the university actually cares what its students think.
The Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors called for the special election after Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong asked them for feedback on the Semester Review Task Force, which ended its work in a recommendation to stay on quarters. Though students overwhelmingly rejected the idea of semesters in a task force survey, 17 of 24 members on the ASI board thought a vote could add something to the discussion.
Though she is not a voting member, ASI President and sociology senior Katie Morrow said she was a strong supporter of the vote.
“This is one sure way to show to every single student that you care about their opinion directly,” she said during the nearly two-hour long debate on whether students should have a vote. “This (the vote) shows you want to have them look at the facts, then give you their opinion.”
What’s unclear is if anyone but Morrow cares about those opinions. Student government, of course, has a duty to represent its constituents — Morrow would look detached if she didn’t hold an ASI vote on what will likely be the most important issue of her presidency.
But the vote’s “advisory” qualifier is something student government has underrepresented in its advertising. The word “advisory” didn’t come up once in an ASI video promoting the vote, and “student advisory” are the two smallest words on the signs around campus (other than the time and place where students can vote).
Because of this, it’s easy to lose sight of what the vote will actually do: advise ASI on how to advise Armstrong on how to advise the California State University (CSU) chancellor.
Lost? That makes sense. For everything the university has been telling us about semesters, it’s infrequently mentioned that CSU Chancellor Timothy White, who began in January, could completely disregard Cal Poly’s research and mandate a semester switch.
But Armstrong could be the one to stop him from doing that. The president will meet with White next Wednesday, and by then he’ll have the students’ votes in hand.
Though the timing of Armstrong’s meeting means he won’t have an official recommendation from ASI to stay on quarters, he will likely have a resolution from faculty representatives in the Academic Senate endorsing the task force’s pro-quarters report.
Morrow said those results will likely show students are still opposed to semesters, just as they were when the Semester Review Task Force polled them in November.
If Armstrong’s meeting ends with White deciding to keep Cal Poly on quarters, it will be a big win for the president. He’ll be able to come back to students and tell the story of how he represented them and how he appreciates their diligent research into the issue.
But if White announces he plans to put Cal Poly on semesters, students will see how little the term “advisory vote” means.
If this happens, Armstrong will have two choices: he can either stand in solidarity with White, putting himself against Cal Poly’s students and the Semester Review Task Force, or he can openly oppose White and use public pressure to persuade the new chancellor to reconsider.
Armstrong told me he’s playing his cards “close to the vest,” until he meets with White, so there’s no indicator of where he’s going from here. But one thing’s for sure: If Cal Poly is unwillingly forced into semesters and the university president doesn’t raise hell, students will.