Changes could be on the horizon for the undergraduate student government, as a student think tank looks to propose structural changes.
The Roosevelt Institute at UCLA, a chapter of the national nonpartisan student think tank, is working to propose changes to the current structure of the Undergraduate Students Association Council. The think tank, comprised of about 20 students, identified several possible issues with USAC and has been discussing possible solutions, members said.
Chapters of the Roosevelt Institute at various college campuses aim to tackle issues at national, state and local levels. This year, Taylor Bazley ““ a third-year political science student and the president of the UCLA chapter ““ chose to focus on USAC.
“We wanted to look at an issue that students care about and where students could see some real, tangible change,” Bazley said. He is one of the only members of the Roosevelt Institute that has also participated in USAC, he said. He currently works in both the USAC Facilities Commission and the office of USAC General Representative 1.
Bazley and the other members of the UCLA chapter, which was founded in 2009, spent this quarter identifying possible issues with the current way student government works at UCLA. So far, the group views low engagement with the student body and student underrepresentation as two main problems, Bazley said.
Recently, the Roosevelt Institute invited current USAC councilmembers into the discussion.
Bazley attended the Nov. 27 USAC meeting to bring the institute’s work to the council’s attention, and invited councilmembers to attend the think tank’s meeting. Many of them did, including USAC President David Bocarsly and USAC Internal Vice President Andrea Hester.
At the Roosevelt Institute’s meeting, members of the Roosevelt Institute outlined possible issues to USAC members, namely representation and engagement of student groups. Bazley brought up the idea that some student groups, especially “South Campus” groups, might be underrepresented, suggesting it can be difficult to represent the entire student body with just 13 members on the council.
To seek out possible remedies for these issues, the Roosevelt Institute has started examining the student governments of other college campuses, namely UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley’s student government is a senate system ““ 20 student senators are elected each spring to act as the legislative branch of the Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley’s student government.
Mihir Deo, a third-year business student and senator at UC Berkeley, said he thinks the senate system works well to represent the student body.
“Senators can be very concerned about different student groups because they act independently from the executives, who have their own responsibilities,” he said.
Bazley said he thinks UCLA should consider UC Berkeley’s senate system, but he said he wouldn’t advocate an entire switch.
“There are huge pros with the senate system. It is very good at ensuring student representation, but our system is more efficient,” he said. “The ideal system would be somewhere in between.”
Any structural change to USAC would require changing the USAC constitution, which would require a two-thirds vote by the council, followed by a two-thirds vote from the student body. Bocarsly said a bylaw change, which only requires a two-thirds vote by the council to be enacted, might be a better short-term solution while working toward a bigger constitutional change.
“(Structural changes) wouldn’t be a one-year project, but if people are committed, we can start thinking about these changes and making strides in those directions,” Bocarsly said.
Michael Cohn, director for the Center for Student Programming, has been affiliated with UCLA for 30 years as an undergraduate student and administrator, and said he cannot remember the last time a change was seriously proposed to USAC.
Several USAC officers said they disagreed with some of the issues and the approach Roosevelt Institute members took. Lana Habib El-Farra, USAC external vice president, said she stands by the idea that USAC’s engagement of students is one of the best she’s ever seen.
“Our system has a very complicated structure,” she said. “We recognize that there are only 13 people on the council. But with staffs ranging from 20 to 200 people, we engage a lot more students than many other student governments.”
Hester said the meeting was interesting and brought up a wide range of ideas and views, but thinks the Roosevelt Institute could have been better prepared.
“When trying to propose fundamental changes, it helps your case if you understand what already exists,” Hester said. “I didn’t get the complete impression that they thoroughly understood what was already in place.”
Bazley said members of the Institute expected some wariness from USAC members, but were pleased they were able to start a dialogue with the council.
“Some of them may have felt attacked, but that’s not what we were trying to do,” Bazley said. “We wanted to look at old issues together so that solutions can be reached cooperatively.”
Brian Hertz, a first-year human biology and society student and member of the Roosevelt Institute, said after meeting with USAC, he feels both parties have a better perspective of what the issues are.
Bocarsly said it was refreshing to hear different perspectives and voices at the meeting, and he plans to continue attending the Roosevelt Institute’s meetings in the coming weeks.
Looking forward, the institute plans to work with USAC to come up with some concrete plans, Bazley said.
“We want to open up the Roosevelt Institute’s discussions to the whole campus. There are many diverse students and clubs on campus with a lot of unthought-of solutions,” he said. “We just have to find them.”