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USAC President’s office calls for chancellor’s apology

By Samantha Tomilowitz

May 23, 2014 1:28 pm

This post was updated on May 24 at 1 p.m.

The undergraduate student government President’s office called for UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to issue a statement of apology Thursday for criticizing students’ efforts to discourage councilmembers from taking free or sponsored trips with certain lobbying groups.

The majority of candidates participating in the Undergraduate Students Association Council election earlier this month signed onto the Joint Statement on USAC Ethics, which asked candidates to refrain from taking trips with certain pro-Israel lobbying organizations and non-student-centered groups if they were elected to office.

On May 16, Block issued a campus-wide email saying that the pledge was an attempt to delegitimize certain organizations’ trips he views as educational and was harmful to communities at UCLA. He added in the email that he thinks the pledge targeted groups with specific political stances.

Before sending out the email, Block did not talk with involved students about the issue and instead learned about the situation from the vice chancellor of Student Affairs.

In its press release Thursday, the USAC President’s office asked for Block to reach out to student groups on campus to talk about the statement and create a “solution-oriented plan.”

USAC President Devin Murphy said he wants to make sure the students’ concerns are heard and that he hopes Block will talk with students about the email statement. 

The press release also said Block misrepresented the pledge in his response and limited the free speech of some students on campus.

“Not only did Chancellor Block act with impulsive haste without engaging in any critical dialogue or conversations, but he also dismissed the legitimate concerns of thousands of students on campus,” the press release said.

In the press release, the USAC President’s office claimed it is important for councilmembers to distance themselves from controversial organizations if USAC wants to best represent the student body. The office also said that councilmembers should still be able to go on trips with external organizations that do not promote discrimination or any form of “systemized prejudiced oppression.”

“Students are warranted in asking their elected officials to accurately represent them, and to criticize these calls compromises the very framework of a thriving democracy,” the press release said.

Internal Vice President Avinoam Baral said he thinks it is disconcerting that Murphy took a stance on a controversial issue without consulting all councilmembers about it first. Baral, who did not sign onto the Joint Statement on USAC Ethics, said he thinks Murphy’s choice to release the statement may represent a dangerous precedent and similar events in the future could undermine the unity of council.

“When you speak on behalf of the office of the president you are still speaking on behalf of the councilmembers and the student body,” Baral said. “I definitely would rather have been consulted beforehand.”

The USAC President’s office press release is one of several that came out recently about the Joint Statement on USAC Ethics and other related issues. Other student groups and University of California President Janet Napolitano have issued statements, and other media outlets have also weighed in on the topic.

Compiled by Samantha Tomilowitz, Bruin contributor.

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