Hand dropping ballot

UCSF Students Suck at Democracy

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Elections for the Graduate & Professional Student Association (GPSA) happen from April 15-29. However, at the start of writing this article, I didn’t have the faintest idea of what the GPSA is or does and I’m willing to bet you don’t either.

Fear not, for I am here to do the thinking and research so that you don’t have to!

First off, what is the GPSA? It is a student government that decides how to spend the fees it collects from its members, which are all UCSF students. The association is composed of representatives elected from the student body. They communicate to the UCSF admin on the students’ behalf, and are responsible for planning events and distributing information to grad students.

Hold on, we give them our money?

Yes, every student at UCSF is considered a member of the GPSA, and as members we need to pay a fee of $9 a quarter (excluding the summer quarter). If they want to crank that number higher, they would need a referendum where we as members agree to the increase. The GPSA gets to decide what to do with that money.

This system of democracy works great, as long as the body being represented puts in the work to make it work. And if I’m being honest, we’re pretty inept and lazy.

According to ten years of data, GPSA elections typically get around 300 votes. And true to form,  the 2023-2024 election averaged 305 votes per position (the lowest count was for the VP of finance at 293 votes, the highest was for the VP of diversity at 313 votes).

Now, doing some back of the envelope math, there were 3,139 students in 2023. That means around 10% of the eligible UCSF population is voting in these elections.

That is pathetic.

The issue gets worse from there: voting is the absolute minimum that one can do for their governing body. When it comes to more active forms of participation, the picture gets downright bleak.

The GPSA holds monthly meetings where the entire student body is allowed to attend. Looking at the meeting minutes of 2023-2024, the names of all attendees could fit on a post-it note. The most non-elected students in attendance during any meeting was five — and for half the meetings, only one non-elected student attended.

But wait, there are even more opportunities for UCSF students to participate in democracy that we fail to take.

One of the wonderful aspects of democracies is that the represented can participate in public office. Even people with no experience in public office can run and win.

But the vast majority of the UCSF student body ignores this duty.

In any given year, there is at least one race that goes uncontested, where the candidate wins with no opposition. It is not uncommon for some positions to have no candidates. There are some years where every single position is uncontested, meaning that the results of the election are a foregone conclusion.

This is shameful on the behalf of the UCSF students. There is no other word for it.

Now, I can’t sit on my high horse on this. I am also ashamed of myself. I don’t show up for the monthly meetings. I haven’t run for any of the elected positions. I don’t remember if I voted last year.

I can’t help but feel that our lack of engagement may be part of the reason some admins don’t take the student body seriously when the GPSA relays our concerns to them, when we ask for better pay or when we go on strike. Looking at the state of our representation, they would think that we don’t have the organizational pressure to get them to do anything. If we don’t care about our representation, they sure as hell won’t.

But as much as the neglect of this governing body is our own fault, it also means that we have the ability and power to correct these mistakes.

If you are ashamed of the state of our civic engagement, now is as good a time as any to get involved.

There is a meeting every month, and if you miss one month there is always the next. You can RSVP for them here. By the time this article comes out, it will be too late to apply to run as a GPSA candidate in the upcoming election. However, there will still be plenty of time to find out about the candidates and make an educated vote.

So go out there and vote! We get the government that we deserve; what kind of government will you be a part of?