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Editorial: USAC must not limit press, student access to divestment meeting

By Editorial Board

Nov. 10, 2014 12:00 a.m.

The focal point of the undergraduate student government’s Nov. 18 meeting in Ackerman Grand Ballroom is a resolution which calls for the University of California to divest from certain companies that some students say profit from the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

And while the fate of the resolution will be ultimately decided by the 14 Undergraduate Students Association Council members, the issues at hand and the people they affect extend well beyond the confines of Ackerman Grand Ballroom and UCLA’s campus.

Divestment is a global issue that spans dozens of college campuses and has a transcontinental impact. At last February’s divestment resolution meeting alone, hundreds of students from all over came to UCLA to voice their opinions on the issue. They are voices USAC cannot and should not silence.

Yet, due to a recent decision by councilmembers, public attendance and media coverage of this vote will be significantly reduced. Students will be required to present BruinCards to gain entry to be admitted to the meeting, and coverage has been barred for all media outlets excluding UCLA Student Media, which can cover the event but must register with the USAC Office of the President prior to attending.

Closing its doors to students and media indicates that USAC might even have the power to limit Student Media’s coverage and hold meetings without any press presence. The limitation of media coverage in any capacity is a concerning precedent for a government body to set.

A special meeting on Wednesday, hosted by the Undergraduate Students Association Council, is a chance for the council to make things right. The council should make Wednesday’s meeting which will include a discussion on logistics for the Nov. 18 meeting a first step in ensuring its complete transparency and accountability as the protectorate in charge of a large pool of student fees.

As a part of these discussions on how to run the divestment resolution meeting, this board strongly encourages councilmembers to overturn their previous decision and make the Nov. 18 meeting and all future meetings public via an amendment to the USAC bylaws open to everyone with everything said on the record.

Councilmembers have made many of these decisions in the name of student safety in the past, but the swiftness and general lack of discussion on the matter are causes for concern. The divestment meeting rules were not on the publicly available agenda last Tuesday and students were not notified beforehand.

USAC’s limitation of media coverage for the Nov. 18 meeting is yet another example of the frightening realities of an elected student body that is not bound to California’s primary open meeting law, the Brown Act, under a technical loophole.

This board has written about needed change to state legislation to bring the UC student governments’ open meeting law requirements up to par with the laws binding their counterparts on CSU and California community college campuses.

The Brown Act and the CSU-specific Gloria Romero Open Meetings Act prohibit a governmental body’s ability to vote using a secret ballot, among many other actions. Last February, USAC, not bound to these regulations, rejected the divestment resolution with a secret ballot after two straw polls.

An error of that magnitude cannot be repeated. Not with the number of students an issue like divestment affects, and not at the cost of a free press.

The responsibility to remain transparent lies with USAC after all, it’s unlikely that application or enforcement of the state’s open meeting law to UC student governments will occur any time soon. Councilmembers must decide Wednesday to make their future meetings completely and unquestionably public to take responsibility as publicly elected officials.

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