September 23, 2004: Headlines: COS - Iran: Election2004: Politics: Miami Herald: Donna Shalala says "Young people, by tradition, are not interested in politics.''

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Iran: Special Report: Iran RPCV, Cabinet Member, and University President Donna Shalala: September 23, 2004: Headlines: COS - Iran: Election2004: Politics: Miami Herald: Donna Shalala says "Young people, by tradition, are not interested in politics.''

By Admin1 (admin) ( on Saturday, October 02, 2004 - 1:34 pm: Edit Post

Donna Shalala says "Young people, by tradition, are not interested in politics.''

Donna Shalala says Young people, by tradition, are not interested in politics.''

Donna Shalala says "Young people, by tradition, are not interested in politics.''

UM attempts to spark more political interest

Dozens of events at the University of Miami seek to engage students in politics during the buildup to next week's presidential debate, but some student leaders doubt their classmates' apathy can be overcome.


The leaders of the University of Miami's College Republicans and Young Democrats do not have campus offices. Those, one leader said, are reserved for influential organizations.

''The kids are more interested in going to the Grove on Thursday nights,'' said Scott Wacholtz, 35, the chairman of the College Republicans. Neither his group nor the Young Democrats had as many as 50 members last semester.

With next week's presidential debate promising to focus national attention on the Coral Gables campus for one night, the university has sponsored dozens of events -- art exhibits, panel discussions, famed speakers -- in an attempt to spark broader student interest in politics.

Combative husband-and-wife political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin drew 4,000 last month -- their largest audience ever, said UM President Donna Shalala. Smaller events routinely draw hundreds of students: a panel of former White House photographers, a lecture by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a panel discussion on the political impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

''There's a lot of excitement on campus that I feel already,'' Shalala said.


But Wacholtz and Young Democrats President Luke Kosar are skeptical, and neither expects much increase in membership this fall.

A mock election held on campus Tuesday attracted 277 voters, with Democratic challenge Sen. John Kerry eking out a 17-vote victory over President Bush. Despite the debate's pervasive presence on campus, that turnout was only 60 votes higher than a similar mock election in April.

''That's a generational issue,'' said Shalala, who was secretary of health and human services under former President Bill Clinton. ``Young people, by tradition, are not interested in politics.''

Wacholtz and Kosar have both received dozens of requests for debate tickets -- neither has scored one for himself, much less has any to give away -- but said they see no sign the event will have much impact once the Secret Service has cleared out and CNN has taken down its broadcast platform in the student center.

Edward Martos, 21, a graduate student, cofounded the campus' nonpartisan Council For Democracy to try and change the trend.

''I thought it was obscene that I was having a college experience where no one cared about politics,'' he said. ``On our campus, we found a lot of students were totally apathetic about politics.''

His campus is hardly alone. In the last presidential election four years ago, less than a third of 18- to 24-year-olds said they voted, according to the U.S. Census.

Fewer than half of that 26.7-million-strong bloc was even registered.

''They're turned off and tuned out to Washington politicians,'' said Bruce Newman, a marketing professor at Chicago's DePaul University and editor of the Journal of Political Marketing.


The only time he truly had his students' attention was when he raised the question of whether the draft might be reinstated next year.

''Suddenly their eyes opened up and jaws dropped,'' he said. ``It reflects on that fact that unless politics affects these people personally and emotionally it's not going to be something that they have an interest in.''

Shalala has tried to compensate by broadening the traditional approach to studying politics. She started with her Cabinet-level cachet to attract speakers such as Rubin, Carville and Matalin; a more prominent group than most debate hosts can muster, Newman said.

The university has also embraced a multimedia approach, hosting exhibits of political cartoons and presidential photographs, a film festival of presidency-related movies and a musicologist speaking about the political and social influence on American opera.

Only a few dozen members of the university community will have debate tickets, but the campus is holding a huge block party with big-screen feeds of the event.

A number of news organizations will broadcast from the student center, including CNN's political coverage and MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews.

''It's not going to be isolated from the students,'' Shalala said.

When Wake Forest University hosted a 1988 debate between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, more than 1,000 students were involved, said Allan Louden, the school's debate director.

''We had students doing hands-on projects, from plugging the cables in and carrying the placards for spin-meisters to hosting panels,'' said Louden, who studied student participation in the three 2000 debates.

``Because they participated, my guess is that it did change their ongoing behavior and participation in politics.''

The experience has been similar at Washington University in St. Louis, which hosted debates in 1992 and 2000 and is set to hold the second Bush-Kerry debate Oct. 5.

''That's why we do this -- it creates a buzz on campus,'' said Steve Givens, chairman of the school's Presidential Debate Steering Committee.

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Story Source: Miami Herald

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