Last year, students plainly and decisively chose the doctrine of equity, diversity and sanctuary when they overwhelmingly voted me in as the Undergraduate Student Association Council’s Academic Affairs commissioner. Those most qualified and committed to these ideals became a part of the Academic Affairs Commission office, and it only made sense to see that doctrine implemented in the most powerful tool at hand: the Academic Senate.
But as with all things USAC, bureaucratic red tape comes in the way. Members of the Academic Senate historically communicated with the AAC via liaisons in the office. That translates to more talking, more unnecessary emails and worst of all, more sluggishness. So my office decided we would have members of the AAC directly serve on the Academic Senate. No red tape, no bureaucracy.
USAC doesn’t seem to like that idea, though. In fact, it doesn’t even seem to get that idea.
On Nov. 7, the council considered many of my appointments to the Academic Senate. While these appointments were overwhelmingly approved, several council members pushed back because of the appointments’ affiliation with and work in the AAC office. However, it’s reasonable to appoint members of the AAC office to the Academic Senate because they have already been noted as individuals who care about the ideals of the office and have displayed the skills to tackle academic policy.
On top of that, this round of Academic Senate nominations, despite nine nominees also occupying spots in the AAC office, saw representation from more than 67 campus organizations – from the Afrikan Student Union, to Samahang Pilipino, to Bruin Political Union, to Alpha Phi, to the Assessing Resident CICARE Medical Program – and from almost 20 different majors and minors. This was by design: the AAC office is not a homogeneous entity, but a compilation of students from all sections of campus who call different parts of the world “home.”
I gave USAC the benefit of the doubt – the idea of appointing members of your office to another entity seemed out of the ordinary, but my rationale was clear. The council didn’t get it yet again, though, when I tried appointing members of my office to the Senate earlier this month, although the bylaws stated some of the appointments must come out of AAC.
USAC President Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh said she felt uncomfortable with Academic Senate appointments only coming out of my office, comparing my decision to appointing members of the President’s office to the Board of Director Appointments and the Communications Board – the latter of which can be looked down upon as a conflict of interest. It’s worth pointing out that earlier this year, Mokhtarzadeh’s office argued in a submission to the Daily Bruin that my appointments were “too similar” to each other because they came from UCLA’s mother organizations.
Not only is this statement lofty, it is also disillusioning. The mother organizations are associated with a collection of student groups that have a vested interest in academic policy focusing on access and retention of students at the margins. Stating that these appointments are too similar when they represent a diverse part of our campus effectively homogenizes the experiences of people of color on campus.
Moreover, it makes little sense to aimlessly solicit applications for vital positions on the Academic Senate – positions that enable students to fight for a variety of academic needs and retention efforts – when the most qualified and interested individuals are already in your own office.
This exchange demonstrates just how much USAC seeks only to meet the status quo, while rocking the boat as little as possible. Rather than being solution-oriented, the council is content with not doing research, not looking into the restrictions on student fees and not reading up on what the applied-to positions are. What it’s somehow fine doing, though, is spending an hour questioning applicants on whether they submitted an application while not stopping to think about how to improve a system that students clearly aren’t invested in. Quite frankly, the council tosses around buzzwords, but “efficiency” is not one of them.
Students are tired of seeing council members go from meeting to meeting without any real change happening. There are few other reasons as to why less than 28 percent of students cared to think about USAC and vote for candidates in spring 2017, despite paying fees into the system.
The council is slow-moving and resistant to change. I ensured my appointees to the Academic Senate would not embody this same ideology, but instead would be fast-acting. For example, the AAC’s response to the Skirball fire and the demands we made were not only distributed faster than BruinAlerts, but have already been implemented: UCLA is working on an academic contingency plan in the next few weeks, and is working to create an administrative point person who will actively quell rumors floating around social media during campus emergencies – both of which are vital resources my office argued for. The council needs to emulate this nimbleness and be quick on its feet to meet students’ needs, not sluggishly drag itself from one task to another.
At the end of the day, USAC is accountable to students. If we council members don’t have the results to show by the end the year, Bruins have every right to criticize us.
I’m in the business of making a difference at UCLA, unlike other council members who are happy with maintaining the status quo. And if it so happens that several nominations to the Academic Senate are also in the AAC office, then let it be. It only strengthens the commission’s ability to advocate for what students elected me and my office to advocate for.
Sharma is the 2017-2018 USAC Academic Affairs commissioner. He served as USAC Transfer Student Representative during the 2016-2017 school year.