Incorrect petition could sway students on issue

Jeff Stone

Although more than 6,000 people have signed a petition against construction on the Lagoon, some of the original dissent could have been heightened by the document’s inaccurate wording.

The construction plan proposed by administrators will fill in one-fifth of the Lagoon and will not affect the Lakefill jogging path. The petition’s wording, however, asks students “outraged at the administration’s unqualified decision to fill in the Lagoon and pave the Lakefill” to sign.

Some students, such as Music junior Darien Shulman, said the inaccurate portrayal of the plan probably swayed some student opinion.

“I think a lot of signatures were signed under false pretenses,” Shulman said. “People signed the petition without doing their homework. It is unfair to expect people to do their own homework. If you have a petition, then it should tell the whole situation.”

Sociology Prof. Bernard Beck said circulating incorrect information could have affected students’ negative reaction to the project.

“We do not know if people would have signed or not if the wording were clearer,” Beck said. “There may have been people that thought there would have been no lagoon. We won’t be able to know this without another survey. Only time will fix (the inaccurate perceptions).”

Sociologists often use different wordings in surveys to achieve desired results.

“In general the wording of a question in that kind of short hand description can make a tremendous difference in results,” Beck said.

Education junior Elyssa Fox said she wrote the petition last week immediately after the details of the plan were released.

“When I wrote the petition there was basically no information to be had,” Fox said. “Since then, more information has come out and the petition is inaccurate. However, I cannot change it or remove people from the petition.”

Fox said she would have changed the wording if she knew more of the plan’s details.

“It wouldn’t have been inaccurate if they came out with the details before,”she said.

The Daily published its first story about the Lagoon plan and a diagram of the construction Feb. 6. A press release detailing the construction also was posted by administrators on Northwestern’s Web site.

Despite the inaccuracy, Fox said she has only received one request to take a person’s name off the petition. Most students who signed the petition said they don’t regret putting their names down.

“I signed the petition the first night it was written and I still disagree with any paving of the Lagoon,” said Laura Schmieder, a McCormick junior. “I am sick of construction on the campus.”

But Schmieder said the false statements on the petition could have influenced others.

“I think the wording did confuse a lot of students,” she said. “I think people are not as opposed as they used to be (once they found out the facts.)”