Students noticeably absent from mayoral debate

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Sometimes the best learning experiences are found outside the pages of textbooks and the confines of a classroom. That is one of the valuable assets of a respectable university.

Such an event was held at CSUN this week, as the mayoral candidates of the second largest city in the nation faced off right here on our campus, trading blows on issues including city hall corruption, housing costs, safety, and even education.

Yet there was something noticeably missing at this CSUN event that prevented it from becoming the great learning experience that it could have been. That “something” was students.

Local politics was portrayed at its best Monday evening in the University Student Union Grand Salon, but to great disappointment, only a handful of students were there to witness the event.

In the debate, Mayor James Hahn and Councilmember Antonio Villaraigosa argued hot topics and even questioned each other. Issues of great importance to the city were discussed, no doubt producing a great opportunity for students of all majors at the university. But the number of students that were able to take advantage of the experience could have been counted on a single hand.

Before the debate began, moderator Paul Moyer asked the audience how many were CSUN students, and sadly, only one hand went up, although there were more, about two or three more (not counting students who were helping at the event).

And for the first time in a very long time, student apathy is not to blame.

The university, after all, did have 50 tickets to distribute for the event. It is disheartening, however, that when deciding how to distribute the tickets, students apparently received such a low priority.

Granted, some of the tickets deserved to go to faculty members, administrators and even alumni. External relations must be maintained at a university. It was great to see political science professors in the audience, as well as President Jolene Koester.

When it comes to an event that holds such a great educational value to students regarding politics, local government, media, journalism, and management, it is sad to think that students seemed to have been placed last in the list.

Several factors must be noted, however. The debate was organized right before spring break, which of course prevented the notification of students. The event was originally scheduled outdoors on the steps of the Oviatt Library, as well, which would have allowed viewing access to anyone who walked by. But because of weather conditions, the debate was moved indoors to the Grand Salon, where seating and occupancy was limited.

The number of students in the seats, however, could have been significantly increased had school administrators made more of an effort. A number of students could have been notified in the same manner that alumni and members of the community were notified, despite the spring break. I am sure that faculty members hold relationships with a number of students whose academic achievement, at least, merited their participation in the event. After all, the first priority of this learning-centered university is the learning opportunities available to students.

Students should have filled more of those seats so that they’d be able to witness the unfolding of local politics. It is not every day that students get a chance to see the workings of local government up close.

This would have been appreciated much more by a student looking to embark on a community leadership role, rather than by a CSUN alum who had nothing better to do on Monday evening and was being chased for his or her possible contribution to the university.

By having more students at the event, the university would have been investing in igniting an interest in an already apathetic society, and would have demonstrated that even at a large, public, over-enrolled university, students do come first.

I am sure university administrators can see the educational value of such an event, and I hope they want to see more students involved. When such opportunities occur, the university must take advantage of them, so that students can have a learning environment that goes beyond the blackboard and the pages of overpriced textbooks. It teaches students that learning occurs after graduation, outside of the classroom, and that remaining informed is always valuable.

It is only by engaging students in these types of activities, outside of the classroom, that the university can truly hope to be a learning centered campus.

Sal Hernandez served as a panelist for Monday’s mayoral debate.