UCLA’s undergraduate student government has a penchant for underrepresenting the student body.
This year, 39 candidates from various campus communities are trying their hand at the Undergraduate Students Association Council. By the end of this week, 25 students and their communities will walk away without a seat in their student government to represent them.
The problem is the structure. USAC consists of 14 seats: three executive positions, three general representative positions, seven commissioner positions and a transfer student representative position. Four of those commissions tend to have internal elections and run unopposed candidates in the spring quarter elections, meaning only 10 seats are actually up for grabs for the everyday Bruin – hardly enough to represent the needs of 31,000 undergraduates.
The 14-person council structure has outlived its time. USAC needs to forego its current structure and make the shift to what many other student governments already have: a senate system.
The structure has already shown signs of cracking. This year’s council members agonized for hours in a meeting this quarter about whether to allow students to vote on whether to add an international student representative position to the table. Council members brought up valid points in their nearly four hours of deliberation: International students are not represented well – sometimes even at all – in USAC, but adding new positions for every community on campus is an untenable way to go about representing students.
Just four years ago, the council – and student body – similarly debated whether to add a transfer student representative position to act for the still-underrepresented transfer student body. And, if the constitutional amendment to add the international student representative passes, it’s likely this campus will once again find itself debating about which new seat to add to best advocate for certain communities.
But USAC’s problem isn’t that it willingly excludes certain communities: it’s that it doesn’t have enough seats to represent the campus’ many communities.
The council is a seemingly haphazard amalgamation of executives, representatives and commissions. Its three executive positions – president, internal vice president and external vice president – have clearly defined roles. Its general representatives have few delineated responsibilities and its commissions often operate so independently from the council that they play a minimal role on the council table or in campuswide political discussions.
A senate system with 20 or more representatives and an executive branch consisting of a president, internal vice president and external vice president would ensure students are adequately represented. Commissions such as Cultural Affairs, Campus Events, Student Wellness and Community Service can be removed from the electoral ballot, as they are large, self-sufficient organizations that hardly ever face opposition during USAC elections.
Of course, we cannot ignore the history behind USAC offices such as CAC and the Academic Affairs Commission and the work they have done to advocate for students of color. But the current system is untenable, and even current council members admit that. A senate system would open the door for communities that don’t see themselves or their needs spoken about on the council table.
Sure, overhauling USAC would require a complete rewrite of USAC’s constitution and bylaws, not to mention recalculating student fees to ensure they are able to fund a much larger senate.
However, we can’t get past the truth: The current council system fails to represent enough students on campus. Just ask the 25 candidates walking home empty-handed Friday night.