Bigger is better?

I’m very loyal to Arts. But people tend to respond defensively when I criticize, so I’m forced to preface this by saying “please don’t respond defensively.”

In their most recent elections, the AUS had 400 voters. SUS? 1400. Which is quite the difference. But it’s even more stark if you realize for a second that Arts is more than twice the size of Science. Now I know voter turnout is a pretty poor measure of engagement. And might be explained by other factors, like online voting in SUS, and campaign differences, on which I’d rather not dwell. But I think it’s relatively clear that, on-campus, Science students are more engaged with their student society than are Arts ones.

This makes me sad. To be sure, there are probably reasons related to the management of the undergrad societies, but those are almost certain to provoke the defensive responses that make me cry myself to sleep at night (or not). So let’s focus on the systemic reasons this could be the case:

  1. Faculty size. Arts is huge. Science less so. It’s a very de-centralized faculty, and there is little shared affinity between people in various programs of study. By contrast, Science is at least smaller, there are more common classes (in early years) and, most importantly, there’s a sense that being “in Science” means something that being “in Arts” doesn’t. What’s the solution? Perhaps leveraging AUS council and contacts to work to develop affinities at the deparemental level, and complete the circle by ensuring that there’s some way the departments come back to Arts at the end of the day.
  2. Physical space. I’ve mentioned this before, but the new Ladha centre is far superior to MASS. MASS is designed in such a way as to place the AUS at the centre whilst relegating students to the periphery, while Ladha, even though it houses SUS offices (which are smaller than those for the AUS), is far more student-friendly. It’s also important to note that spaces like the war room and other ones in MASS aren’t used as much by students as the Ladha ones. No idea why. (The AUS ought to also consider learning from SUS which has managed to leverage its fantastic new space… it’s become a hub for all sorts of student-friendly activities.)
  3. Arts County Fair. Ask any AUSer what they’re doing this time of year, and they say “Fair.” Cuz they are. It consumes the AUS for a good chunk of the year. While I love ACF, I can’t help but wonder if this is a service that the AUS ought to invest to much of its time and energy. (I should first note that time and energy are necessarily a zero sum game – if someone is spending time on A, then that is less time they can be spending on B and C.) What’s the return to Arts students for the fair? They get no additional benefit. Hell, they don’t even get a discount on admission. It’s an Arts event in name only. Which I’m fine with, but it clearly comes at the cost of other engagement. Moreover, there exists a perception that “all the AUS does is ACF.” While I’ll be the first to say that’s not the case, that perception can quite readily alienate the thousands of Arts students who don’t attend the fair. I’m all for ACF, and it’s a valuable campus service, but we can’t disregard the cost.
  4. Snobbery. Arts students have an inferiority complex that makes me sad. There’s the “would you like fries with that” stigma that surrounds an Arts degree, and I suspect it contributes to a drop in affinity.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’m late for real estate transactions. But I’m curious as to thoughts. It’s an uphill battle in Arts, and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I’m also at a loss for solutions. Any thoughts?


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