ASUA out of touch

By Katie Paulson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

On Thursday evening, the men behind the socially idolized characters of Kip and Pedro from "Napoleon Dynamite" will grace the UA campus compliments of the student government Speakers Board.

But, following the trend of most other events organized by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, complications have arisen, which all boil down to a single point: Students just don't care enough to attend.

This then kicks off the vicious cycle currently impeding the efforts of not only the Speakers Board but also ASUA in general.

As the representative body of this university, it is ASUA's responsibility to entice attendance through effective marketing strategies and the creation of a valuable experience.

In nonbusiness lingo, ASUA has lost touch with the student environment here on campus, which highlights the irony that those serving the institution have metaphorically lost touch with themselves.

In a university setting boasting more than 37,000 people, it seems feasible to conclude that events such as a discussion led by actors Efren Ramirez and Aaron Ruell would generate a tremendous - and positive - response. Just think how many people own "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts.

Yet, sluggish ticket sales have forced the Speakers Board to change venues, which moved the session from Centennial Hall to the Student Union Memorial Center South Ballroom. Carrie Pixler, the Speakers Board's director, blames the struggle of garnering mass support to ineffective approaches within ASUA.

"It's difficult to market when there aren't enough people within the organization assisting," Pixler stated.

While advertising through posters, publications, e-mail and leaflets can spark scattered interest among individuals, these outlets have been abused by oversaturation, which directly correlates to the waning support of students.

During last year's political charged climate, the most highly attended and still debated speaker came in the larger-than-life form of Michael Moore. Droves of individuals came from all over the state to either cheer or jeer the seemingly prophetic rhetoric of the famed producer.

Unfortunately, the lack of a presidential election has forced the Speakers Board to search out big-name celebrities; even so, students aren't taking the bait, even when they won't incur any costs.

Yet, one major difference distinguishes last year's event from now: People were talking about Michael Moore's visit. No one remained nonchalant. In fact, people stood on polar opposite grounds regarding both him and Ann Coulter's pie-filled visit (although hers was not coordinated through ASUA).

If ASUA can spark conversation about upcoming speakers, it can wield more universal support; furthermore, it can pull itself out the financial mire and earn profits once again.

Evaluating ASUA as an entity, other programs sponsored by the student government have also faced similarly cold receptions. Ryan Patterson, director of the ASUA Special Events Committee, experienced harsh feedback when the Jason Mraz concert failed to sell enough of the more expensive general admission tickets (as opposed to student tickets), which marred the event as a financial flop.

Before finding the general student population culpable, ASUA members should take proactive steps in order to reduce the overall apathetic approach to what it has to offer. To begin, it must rethink its targeting strategies.

While finances do influence what speakers or other recognizable people venture to the UA, they should not act as a hindrance to how ASUA presents its chosen celebrity. ASUA must design the event to represent the "coolest place to be," even if the speaker's name won't amass large crowds.

How to do this? Talk to students. Make personal invitations (and no, groups don't count). Run promotions out on the UA Mall. The underlying message: Get more visible.

Pixler has started to assess the situation and design new ideas that may curb the trend.

"As always, I encourage student comments, questions, and suggestions but it's just hard to provide logistically feasible ideas," she said.

With this in mind, she has started discussing the creation of committees and working closer with students who want to share their thoughts regarding both speaker possibilities as well as marketing such events to students.

This approach needs to run through the other outlets of ASUA in order for the organization to reach its most important customers: us. We should want to shell out more money (only if necessary) to attend such prestigious events.

Well, perhaps not all are elegant, but who doesn't want to vote for Pedro and see all of our wildest dreams come true?

Katie Paulson is a junior majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at