On Aug. 27, several sorority and fraternity houses on campus were involved in the hijacking of a local election. Mobilized in support of a former SGA president, they were taken to the polling station in limos (perfectly legal) and apparently offered other inducements to vote (stretching legality to breaking point).
The students’ bloc vote effectively decided the result of the District 4 School Board election, ousting an experienced and committed incumbent. The ultimate responsibility for this sad little trampling of the democratic process must lie with Cason Kirby, his campaign staff and the murky network of “business-oriented” political action committees that funded him.
But this episode also poses some serious questions about the relationship between the University and the town, as well as our students’ understanding of civic responsibility. The school board election will affect the education of Tuscaloosa’s children – a vital issue but one in which, almost by default, the students involved could have had no direct stake. When these students voted, they showed contempt for the consequences of their blind obedience and for the democratic process itself.
It is hardly surprising that the people who actually care about this issue (the parents) are left feeling extremely angry at this brazen, disinterested incursion into their children’s lives. Altering the outcome of local elections clearly crosses a line, and the publicity that this event has justifiably generated does not paint the University in a flattering light. In the aftermath of the election, many town residents are asking what President Bonner and the University’s upper administration make of the cynical manipulation of Tuscaloosa’s politics by those allied to the University’s greek system and what can be done to discourage it while defending everyone’s right to vote. These people deserve an answer.
Jon Benstead is an associate professor in the department of biological sciences.