The Undergraduate Students Association Council was created for the purpose of giving students agency in a university riddled with bureaucracy and administrative jargon. Too bad this year’s council has decided to cede its authority to the very administrators it should be holding accountable.
The undergraduate student council held a marathon meeting Tuesday to deliberate amendments to its election code and the fitness of its Election Board chair. The council decided on everything, from whether the Election Board can partially reimburse USAC candidates for campaign expenditures to when spring quarter election events would take place.
One thing the council didn’t debate: the constitutionality of allowing slate-affiliated candidates to spend an extra $200 and independent candidates running against slate-affiliated candidates to spend an extra $400. USAC left that to Debra Geller, the associate dean of students and an administrative representative on the council, and the Office of the Campus Counsel, an obscure legal campus entity that isn’t easily accessible to students.
Geller’s initial contact with the OCC followed the council’s decision in fall quarter to amend the election code to decrease campaign spending limits for slate-affiliated candidates. Geller said the OCC declared that USAC violated its constitution by passing the amendment without an Election Board chair and that different spending limits violated students’ First Amendment right to freedom of association.
However, the OCC isn’t the judicial body that decides the legality of the Election Code. USAC already has its own Judicial Board to carry out such tasks, and can even consult Student Legal Services, a legal resource that is accessible to and ultimately meant for students. By turning to the administration to make its decisions, USAC is willfully allowing UCLA to intrude on its operations – the operations of an Associated Students UCLA-affiliated organization. So much for student representation.
Consulting lawyers for a student government election is no doubt important – students should not be denied their civil liberties and freedoms. But the way the council determined the legality of its decision was troubling. As Divya Sharma, the academic affairs commissioner, pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting, the council made a decision based on the words of an administrative representative who consulted an inaccessible administrative office. In effect, the group of student-elected leaders allowed a far-off administrative office to make a decision for the student body.
And it’s not as though USAC doesn’t have the resources to make these decisions itself. The USAC Judicial Board has weighed in on campaign spending limits in the past and would have been the appropriate body for the council to consult. And if that weren’t enough, the lawyers at the Student Legal Services office are hired to assist students.
The council’s members could have easily scheduled appointments to consult with either of these student resources, reported their findings to the council and made a decision. By failing to do that, its members haven’t just neglected their responsibilities; they’ve also forsaken their autonomy.
Of course, Geller is an important resource for the council to consult on its procedures. And it’s possible USAC’s previous spending limits for candidates might have violated its constitution. But the council has the resources needed to come to those conclusions on its own. Running to administrators to make the tough decisions is indicative of the council running away from its obligations.
Council members claim they strive to represent student interests. They can do good on that promise by not being an inadvertent puppet of the UCLA administration.