If you’ve never paid much attention to the undergraduate student government, you’re in good company; the men and women of the council themselves seem to be a bit distracted as well.
Over the past six weeks, Daily Bruin Opinion columnists attended USAC meetings to observe council members and their social media and phone habits. For each member, we collected two metrics – whether they attended the meeting and whether they used social media during the meeting – in order to get an idea of how engaged council members were during their crucial weekly gatherings.
To be fair, it’s hard to focus for almost two hours straight, especially after a long day of work and classes. However, each council member makes up to $10,000 a year – all funded by student fees. They should be paying close attention to what’s going on during their meetings for just a few hours every week.
When measuring social media usage, we mainly relied on whether council members visited a social media site – such as Facebook or Twitter – on their laptops. We did not always have a clear view of each of the members in every meeting, however, so there’s a good chance we’ve missed out on some social media usage.
Internal Vice President Sabrina Zeigler and Community Services Commissioner Zack Dameron set the standard for engagement. Though she used her phone a couple of times, Zeigler stayed on task for almost the entirety of the meetings. And Dameron was by far the most focused member on council. From our observations, he never used social media during a meeting. In fact, he was often times seen taking down notes or intently going through the USAC funding matrix.
Most importantly, Dameron offered some of the more insightful points during council discussions. He showed that avoiding social media isn’t a superhuman feat and can have some real benefits when it comes to council discussions. That’s especially true with topics of discussion such as a resolution asking the UC to reform its sexual assault policies, the possibility of UCSHIP covering male-to-female surgeries and various funding allocations – discussions other council members tended to contribute to by gently smiling at their computer screens.
Some of the other council members didn’t fare as well, however.
Surfing Facebook tended to be a popular activity. Campus Events Commissioner Jordan Dang was perhaps the most notable case – he was on Facebook for almost the entirety of the five meetings he attended. In terms of screen time, Zoe Borden, one of the general representatives, and Christina Lee, the student wellness commissioner, also checked their devices often.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have officers like External Vice President Rafi Sands. While he was one of the least distracted members, some of his in-meeting activities included booking a flight, typing up a “quotation of the day” in Slack and going onto Shake Shack’s website to view a promo code for a free burger.
What our statistics don’t mention is how much time each member spent on their phones or which social media site they used each time – there is a wide range for both. While that type of categorization would have been nearly impossible, our data comes from over 12 hours of sitting in on USAC meetings, where usually at least three columnists attended and verified the recorded statistics.
As elected officials, council members owe it to the student body to pay attention during meetings for just a few hours a week. Otherwise, this council will continue to lose meaningful input from members during important conversations to the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
USAC council meetings are held in Kerckhoff 417 Tuesday nights at 7 p.m., and are open to the general public. They are also recorded via USAC Live! YouTube live videos, broadcasted every Tuesday night during the council meetings.