Monday, September 24

Abhishek Shetty: USAC must update online minutes, guidelines to maintain transparency

(Justin Ma/Daily Bruin)

(Justin Ma/Daily Bruin)

Maintaining an up-to-date website and uploading meeting documents regularly are simple and obvious steps any student government should follow. But unfortunately, UCLA’s undergraduate student government has treated them as an afterthought for years.

Late last month, Vivy Li, the Undergraduate Students Association Council internal vice president, prompted the council to revisit the terms of USAC Live!, the YouTube channel through which USAC livestreams and archives its meeting videos. Li temporarily took down previous council meetings from public view to maintain consistency with the guidelines stated on USAC’s website.

The council, however, was looking at outdated guidelines. The current guidelines state that the council must archive meeting videos, yet none of the council members at the Sept. 19 meeting were aware of this. As a result, students were unable to follow council meetings in their entirety for more than a month, except for short periods of time immediately after the council uploaded each meeting video – until the council restored the videos to public view after a Daily Bruin editor emailed council members to inform them of the updated guidelines.

This incident highlighted just how important it is for the council to ensure its website is updated, not just for transparency but for its own sake. USAC almost violated its own guidelines because four consecutive councils failed to present these video guidelines to the student body.

USAC must be more transparent. Its website is the primary way for students to learn about USAC’s happenings, and the council needs to upload minutes and the latest versions of its documents regularly. It should also go back to previous dates to ensure minutes for recent years’ meetings are visible online. These small yet obvious tasks would help boost USAC’s transparency.

Roy Champawat, director of Associated Students UCLA, said those in charge of the website include himself, USAC’s webmasters and its computer center manager. Minutes document the happenings of a meeting, including what council members say during discussions and officer reports, and provide an alternative to USAC Live!’s suboptimal sound quality.

Once the minutes-taker finishes writing the minutes, they send it back out to council for review and approval, Champawat said. Once approved, the minutes go to the webmaster, who then uploads it to the website, he added.

However, hiring and retaining webmasters has been a problem, Champawat said. He said he was not aware the USAC Live! guidelines had not been updated.

But it’s not just the guidelines. The minutes for the 2015 meeting during which the council changed its livestream policies were also inaccessible. Jessica Alexander, student government services manager, said the inaccessibility was a result of a broken link.

Unfortunately, inaccessible minutes are a feature of the USAC website. In April, minutes for every meeting since December 2016 were missing online. The minutes later appeared after I informed Sabrina Zeigler, last year’s IVP, of the oversight.

And there are still gaps in the website’s minutes. Minutes for all meetings that took place between March 14 and April 18 are missing, and the current council has not uploaded its May 30 meeting minutes.

USAC’s guiding documents bear similar signs of neglect. The Election Code, a document governing student government elections, does not contain amendments made after February 2015. To check the multiple updates to the bylaws in the past few months, such as the ones on June 6, one would have to dig through past minutes – or at least the ones that USAC has bothered to upload.

And as the ultimate sign of USAC’s intransigence, the up-to-date USAC Live! guidelines are still unavailable online.

USAC needs to upload minutes right after they have been finalized and make sure there are minutes for every meeting date. Whenever there is a change in a guiding document, like the election code or bylaws, the council needs to notify the webmaster immediately so the website reflects the updated version. Then, USAC needs to check whether the minutes from at least the last five years are accessible and fix broken links or gaps.

Transparency aside, as it was shown earlier this quarter, USAC needs to keep its website up to date for itself. Maintaining the website will ensure councilmembers are looking at the right documents when they are proposing action items at the council table or amending the documents themselves.

USAC has made some changes recently. They now employ two webmasters who will graduate UCLA in different years to ensure smooth transitions from one webmaster to another, Champawat said. This is a helpful move, but USAC needs to put in more work to fully rectify the mess that is its website. Going back and uploading past minutes would be relatively easy for the council, considering it maintains its own separate offline copies of all minutes.

USAC cannot afford to continue putting off these mundane tasks. After all, the Daily Bruin cannot always be there to tell them how to do its jobs.

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Opinion columnist

Shetty is a senior staffer in the Opinion section. He was an assistant Opinion editor in the 2017-2018 school year and previously contributed as an opinion columnist. He writes about topics including the undergraduate student government and the UCLA administration.

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