Monday, October 09, 2006

Politicians don't commit to students


It started with a simple premise, bring the three gubernatorial candidates to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and invite students from across the state to hear what they have to say on higher education, the job market, the economy and tuition.

It ended with an illogical conclusion.

Green Party gubernatorial candidate Nelson Eisman was contacted by UWM’s Society of Professional Journalists in mid-July. The same day, he confirmed his attendance for an Oct. 8 student forum.

Both the Green and Doyle parties were contacted the same day as Eisman, which sparked the beginning of a battalion of endless excuses and eventually smoldered into non-committal.

Both candidates said it would be placed on a list that would eventually be discussed with the gubernatorial candidates.

Green continues to tout his alleged commitment to students in his political ads.

On Aug. 28, Green went so far as to have UWM’s “Students for Green,” a registered student organization with the university, stand behind him with signs his campaign handed out so as to give the doctored appearance that a larger number of students turned out to support him.

That day, Green unveiled his economic development plan for the state, which included a way to stop the “brain drain” in Wisconsin.

“The top age group leaving Wisconsin are 20- to 29-year-olds,” Green said.

I’d buy that, and one reason is because Wisconsin politicians aren’t paying any attention to that demographic.
“Believe me, there is nothing more I would like to do than debate Gov. Doyle on higher education,” Green said when asked why he hasn’t formally committed to attending a planned student forum at UWM in October. “But it’s important to consider Doyle’s calendar too.”

So let me get this straight: even after you’re told it’s one, not a debate but a controlled student forum sponsored by the university and moderated by the professional media, and two that the other candidates’ presence is not a pre-requisite for your own, you have the gall to say that?

Talk about needing to question the political rhetoric.

Throughout August and September, calls and or e-mails were made and placed to the Doyle and Green campaigns daily.

For Green, it was one excuse after the other but they were “very excited at the prospect of the forum.” On Sept. 20, the final cold, hard truth was given:

“After speaking with the Doyle campaign, it was decided that the UW-Milwaukee debate will not be added to the calendar,” said Scott Matejov, Green’s operations director who handles Green’s scheduling requests.

Matejov said a call from the Doyle campaign should shortly follow his to confirm the lack of non-commitment to students.

That phone call came two days later, breaking a 34 day streak of unanswered and unreturned phone calls and e-mails to Doyle’s campaign.

Worse yet, that call came at 6:21 p.m. to my internship, a newsmagazine that operates 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Unfortunately the governor’s schedule will not allow for the proposed debate,” said Sarah, a woman who only identified herself as Doyle’s scheduling person. “I hope you can understand the complexity of the governor’s schedule at this point.”

Of it’s understandable. That’s why the student forum was proposed in July, to give all campaigns plenty of time to fit it into their schedules.

First it’s that it’s too far out to schedule the forum for Doyle, now it’s flipped to be where it’s too close to the election.

Clear differences need to be drawn here, though:

The Green campaign runs these ads where he discusses the importance of higher education and has college students in the background. But he won’t commit to event he expressed interest in from the start because his campaign conferred with Doyle’s and decided reaching a statewide audience of students in the largest city in the state was a bad idea--for whatever reason.

This brings the larger point of contention: students and the younger demographic don’t vote enough, so politicians don’t pay them any creed. And yet, when there is a substantial effort to gather students statewide to listen to the candidates, it’s ignored by two of the three campaigns.

There’s one of two answers to this quandary: either politicians don’t care about higher education or students shouldn’t care about voting because in the end politicians won’t grant them the respect and attention they deserve.


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