By Ryan Johnson
Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 4, 2004
As we recover from post-election depression/jubilation, certain things that had been staples in our lives now disappear into their vault for another four years: Democrats, bumper stickers, negative ads.
But there's one thing that we should wish didn't go away: surveys. Over the past year, we've heard countless references to polls about what the country thinks about Kerry, what Arizona thinks about the war, and what young voters think about gay marriage.
Yep, we heard more about the margin of error, statistical significance, and trending in the past few months than we're likely to hear in the next three years.
And at the UA we get almost nothing.
Instead, we use an information-gathering system based on specific individuals getting involved. This happens via communication between ASUA and the administration. Take for example one of the main ways ASUA communicates with students, their online "suggestion box." Students are supposed to plant suggestions there, but according to ASUA they get only one or two a week.
So we're talking about fewer than a hundred suggestions in a given year? So what do they do to find out what students as a whole think?
Not survey them. Instead, what usually happens is either the administration or ASUA calls a task force or an advisory council, whose charge is to go out and find out what all of the relevant interests think.
But how can they possibly get a general consensus of students? At best, they're going to find out from only highly interested and involved students. Not good enough.
Granted, surveys are very difficult to do. To do a professional survey, it would take between 600 and 1,200 surveys of a random sample of the student population. And getting a random sample would prove extremely difficult.
But this is for an outstanding estimation of the UA population. A survey of the same quality allowed pollsters to almost exactly predict the outcome of the entire presidential election.
It wouldn't be hard at all to get a "decent" survey of students. Why not randomly select UA student e-mail addresses?
In the rare instances in which surveys have been done, they're usually done in a manner that can't possibly represent the UA population, such as when 200 students were surveyed to get their input on the new final exam proposals. But upon further examination, all that happened was a few classes full of non-typical students, e.g. student leaders, were surveyed. This won't do. Neither will standing out on the Mall.
Even the administration recognizes the use in getting surveys of students. Provost George Davis says that it would be very valuable to do a survey of student involvement on campus. He says that the administration has no comprehensive survey of the involvement of students, but if it did they could use it to more effectively steer resources towards increasing involvement. He says he could also present it to the Arizona Board of Regents and get it used as one of the criteria under which the UA is judged.
The lack of surveys is not the only problem in generating student input and feedback at the UA.
Pam Perry, administrative dean of the Eller College of Management, spoke about how hard it is to gauge potential demand for programs. For example, with only 12 students, creating a minor in finance would be profitable for the Eller College, and the college would strongly consider opening up courses. But with the high start-up costs and no guarantee that anyone would sign up, Eller can't feasibly start the program.
Residence Life also wishes it had better ways to connect it with students and other groups on campus. One example that director Jim Van Arsdel has is that he would like to see a large mural on the concrete wall of the Manzanita-Mohave dorm facing Park Avenue. But he has received no proposals.
Clearly, administrators recognize the need for more feedback. Let's get some surveys started.
So as UA news begins to fill the election news void, let's hope that it includes statements like, "65 percent of the UA student body supports this."
Ryan Johnson is an economics and international studies junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.