Representative democracies have a simple formula: Voters cast their ballots for candidates who represent their interests. Those representatives then make decisions aligning with the interests of their constituents.
UCLA’s undergraduate student government seems intent on different calculus: Voters decide everything.
This year’s Undergraduate Students Association Council has hardly been up to the task of making decisions for the student body. Instead of enforcing rules designed to maintain the institution’s integrity and efficiency, it has relied on a lazy tactic: inviting the student body to take over their meetings.
Whether it’s for deciding council resolutions, allocating fees or appointing members of the student body to vital positions, USAC has depended on student attendance at its Tuesday night council meetings – which can run for upward of six hours – to determine how to cast votes.
The council has been bullied into making decisions it finds morally ambiguous, even on matters related to the spring USAC election. This susceptibility to the Tuesday night mob rushes sets a dangerous precedent: Anyone with the time and manpower can pressure council members into making decisions they, their staff and their communities object to.
We saw as much Tuesday night. Richard White, the USAC election board chair, sought to nominate candidates primarily affiliated with the Community Programs Office and Student Fee Advisory Committee to the board. While an affiliation with CPO is itself not disqualifying, the fact that the majority of White’s nominees were from the same organization drew into question whether they would be able to hold each other accountable – and perhaps more importantly, whether White had effectively solicited applications from all corners of campus.
Moreover, White’s nominees provided few new ideas to reach out to politically disengaged students, besides well-worn solutions, such as an “office hours” system and a meet-and-greet – efforts that will probably fail to increase USAC election voter participation from last year’s meager 26.5 percent.
Yet following an impressive attendance at the meeting and several shouts from audience members, council members approved a majority of White’s nominees. A similar turn of events in fall quarter involving many CPO members crowding around the council table resulted in White himself being approved as the election board chair.
There are numerous other examples. It took a room with dozens of passionate, arguing students for the council to make a decision on whether to support the right of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA to hold the National SJP conference on campus. The council has even come to rely on students attending meetings to go through the regular exercise of allocating funds.
This interest in USAC isn’t inherently bad; the issue is where it’s happening. If students are only able to get their voices heard by hounding council members at 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, we’re left to wonder whether USAC is truly making the effort to interface with its constituents outside of its weekly, 14-person musings.
Dialogue with the student body, after all, should be happening regularly enough that council member decisions shouldn’t be contingent on who has time to spare to show up to a drawn-out meeting.
USAC has a responsibility to represent students and provide the most effective campus governance possible, not carry water for powerful student organizations. Conflicts of interest in elected and appointed representatives, unnecessary student fees and inequitable access to campus resources will only be resolved if the council has the resolve to commit to educated decisions.
Otherwise, its weekly meetings will have little meaning – save for reminding students they’re paying 14 people to cast votes, despite doing the work for it.