I’ve stated that the NASPA vote against consolidating with ACPA would have been different if graduate student members could have voted. This is largely influenced by my emotions, intuition, and experiences. But how much truth is there in this belief? Can we find evidence to support or refute this assertion by examining the results of the vote and membership data? Would it really have made a difference if graduate students could have voted?
Data and Assumptions
I’m having trouble finding membership data but I have found enough to make some rough calculations. According to the latest Executive Director’s Report to the Board of Directors, in January NASPA had 12,388 members. At about the same time, the co-chairs of the New Professionals & Graduate Students Knowledge Community (NPGS KC) wrote that there were over 3,000 graduate student members in NASPA. Finally, NASPA is reporting that 42% of eligible voters participated in this vote and 62% of them voted for consolidation.
Let’s assume that all of the numbers above are correct or at least close enough for some rough calculations. Let’s also assume that one-quarter of the NASPA membership was ineligible to vote. Graduate student members make up almost one-quarter of the NASPA membership so this assumption is conservative because associate affiliate members could not vote, either. We’ll make this assumption even more conservative and assume there are 3,000 graduate student members. Finally, let’s assume that the straw poll conducted by the NPGS KC is predictive of how graduate student members would have voted and 82% of them would have supported consolidation.
If 42% of eligible voters participated in the vote, that means that 5,203 members voted. Sixty-two percent of those members – 3,226 members – voted for consolidation. Two-thirds of them would have had to vote for consolidation for the motion to carry.
Calculations and Results
Let’s explore two scenarios. In the first scenario, let’s assume that the same proportion of graduate student members participate in the vote as the rest of the membership. In other words, let’s assume that 42% of the graduate student members – 1,260 members – participate in the vote. And as stated above, we’ll assume that the NPGS KC straw poll is predictive of student membership voting preferences. Do these additional 1,033 votes for consolidation meet or exceed 66% of the total number of votes? Yes, but barely. That would have resulted in 66.9% of the voters in favor of consolidation, just over the 2/3 required.
In our second scenario, let’s assume that only those student members who responded to the NPGS KC straw poll participate in the consolidation vote. In that case, only 547 new votes are added to the total. The additional 447 votes for consolidation only increases the total percentage of consolidation votes to 64.4 so these additional votes do not change the final result.
As demonstrated by the two scenarios described above, graduate student members would have had to participate in a higher proportion than the general membership and voted for consolidation by a huge margin to have changed this vote. We have good reason to believe that student members would have overwhelmingly supported consolidation. We don’t know how many of them would have voted and whether enough of them would have voted to change the results; it’s very plausible.
In this brief exercise, the assumption that seems weakest is that the NPGS KC straw poll would have been predictive of the behavior of the entire student membership of NASPA. This is primarily due to the fact the straw poll was only administered to the members of the NPGS KC and we don’t know how representative those members are of the larger student membership of NASPA. Personally, I believe that student members would have overwhelmingly voted for consolidation in line with the straw poll. But I don’t know how many students would have voted and I am not confident that the straw poll can tell us much about that.
It is likely but not inevitable that graduate student members would have changed the result of this vote. Evidence seems to show that graduate student members were solidly in favor of consolidation. But we don’t know if enough of them would have voted to change the final result; it’s likely but not certain.
Of course, this exercise in arithmetic ignores all social, cultural, and historic issues (and many others). If support for consolidation was indeed extremely high among graduate student members, what emotional impact does it have for their votes to have not been counted even if they would not have changed the final result? Will graduate students feel more aligned with ACPA who allowed student members to vote and whose general membership seemed to favor consolidation by the same margin as graduate student members of NASPA? Finally, how much does it matter if the graduate student vote could have changed or not changed the final result? How much weight is carried by the symbolic act of inclusion or exclusion?
(And what about the associate affiliate members who were also denied the right to vote? If they could have voted, how many would have voted and for which result?)