Members of student organizing coalitions said the undergraduate student government external vice president’s office is not making a strong effort to collaborate with them, which detracts from student advocacy efforts.
Some University of California student leaders allege that Zach Helder, Undergraduate Students Association Council external vice president, does not thoroughly communicate with other lobbying organizations such as the University of California Student Association. They added they think his lack of cooperation hurts students by sending mixed signals to lawmakers about student opinions on bills.
UCSA is a systemwide student organization that advocates on behalf of UC students at the state and federal level. This year, USAC paid $83,226 in student fees to UCSA for membership, according to the USAC’s 2015-2016 budget.
Helder, the first external vice president from the Bruins United slate in more than a decade, was elected last spring. A member of the LET’S ACT! slate has historically occupied the external vice president seat.
Bruins United and LET’S ACT! slates are campus political groups whose candidates run for USAC positions. Bruins United is a more moderate organization that intends to negotiate with campus administrators, while LET’S ACT! members aim to organize for progressive change, according to their respective Facebook pages.
Last November, Helder published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily News opposing SB376, which would require the UC to pay contracted workers the same wages and benefits as existing university employees who do similar work. At the end of his submission, he listed names of UCSA board members who co-sponsored the piece.
Some UCSA members said they thought the submission conveyed UCSA’s support for his position, though the organization had not taken an official stance on the bill.
Sam Alavi, a member of the board of directors of UCSA, said she thinks external vice presidents and student associations should be free to take stances on legislation independently of UCSA, but doing so potentially impacts UCSA’s ability to garner support and organize.
“Most people see (external vice presidents) as analogous to UCSA, so this hurt our relationship with a lot of our allies and partners who were fighting hard for (SB376),” Alavi said.
Last month at a USAC meeting, Helder said he would work with UCSA officials to oppose AB1711, which would have capped nonresident enrollment in the UC, when UCSA had not discussed the bill.
A UCSA meeting attendee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said they think the external vice president’s office and UCSA should consult each other and discuss which legislators to lobby and what bills to support.
They added they think working with UCSA would help the external vice president’s office connect with more lawmakers, and present a united front that would not confuse legislators who currently meet with several UC student representatives.
Alavi said some deadlines for UCSA advocacy campaigns were pushed back because Helder’s office failed to submit data on time.
“A few schools will (fail to complete some assignments) on time, but UCLA is often one of them,” Alavi said.
She added UCSA campaigns often require a considerable amount of background research and data gathering from board members, to ensure their advocacy is based in fact.
“Students are usually given ample time to fulfill (deadlines), yet we still end up having to push back due dates when students don’t get their work done,” Alavi said. “But … there’s still another three months (for school representatives) to show UCSA campaigns are a priority.”
The student present at UCSA meetings said they think Helder, who did not participate in UCSA actions like the Million Student March, is not doing his part to amplify UCSA’s student voice.
“I wish (UCLA’s external vice president) utilized (UCSA) more,” they said. “If (USAC) is paying (membership fees), the money should be going toward making it the most productive space possible.”
Former USAC External Vice President Conrad Contreras said he thinks cooperation and communication with organizations like UCSA is key to student advocacy efforts.
“Working by yourself, you’re not going to accomplish much change,” Contreras said. “The biggest power that students have is power by numbers.”
Another member of UCSA said he thinks individual campus’ lobbying programs send mixed messages to lawmakers and look unprofessional when they aim to represent the entire UC.
Some students said they think Helder also failed to communicate with the United States Student Association about USAC’s withdrawal from the organization in August.
USSA is a national student-led organization that aims to organize students to address issues at the local, state and federal levels.
Last August, Helder said he would redirect USSA membership funds toward student advocacy, allocating about $50,000 in funding for Bruin Defenders, a program that provides student groups funding to lobby, and about $30,000 for a lobby corps that will focus on national issues.
Then-USSA President Maxwell Love said he reached out to Helder when he heard USAC was considering withdrawing from USSA, but did not get a response.
Helder said he did not provide a response because he had been out of the country for a few weeks and found no communication from USSA or its board members when he checked his email upon his return.
USSA Vice President Breana Ross said in an email she hopes UCLA will rejoin USSA so it can partner with UCLA to amplify its local and national efforts.
“As students, we are most successful when we can leverage our collective power to make change,” Ross said.
Nathan Skadsen, chief of staff for Helder’s office, said in an email statement he thinks Helder has a strong relationship with many UCSA board members. He added Helder attended what Skadsen called a productive UCSA meeting last weekend.
Skadsen said the external vice president’s office is proud of the alliances it has formed with organizations other than UCSA and USSA. He added the office has collaborated with Young Invincibles, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of college students on issues like health care and youth employment.
At Tuesday’s USAC meeting, Helder said he was preparing for a trip to Washington, D.C., in two weeks.