Monday, April 6

USAC draws criticism for enforcing time limit on comment session

Students criticized the undergraduate student government for limiting public comment after people who attended last Tuesday's meeting were turned away. (Efron Pinon/Daily Bruin)

The original version of this article contained information that is unclear. Heather Rosen said she denied the proposal to extend the public comment session not because she did not want to hear more than 30 minutes of comment but because doing so would violate the bylaw. Also, Zach Helder did not say himself that extensions must be decided one week in advance.

Students were unable to comment on a controversial bylaw change the undergraduate student government voted on at its meeting last Tuesday, sparking discussion about the council’s 30-minute limit for public comment.

Council members only allowed about 10 of 60 students to express their opinions during the meeting’s public comment section, in accordance with the time limit added to the Undergraduate Students Association Council bylaws in 2006.

Each speaker from the public is chosen on a first come, first served basis and is given two minutes to speak to the council, said USAC President Heather Rosen.

Rosen added the bylaws state a speaker cannot yield any time to other members of the public, allowing for a maximum of 15 members of the public to speak at a council meeting.

Last year, the council passed a motion to suspend its bylaws and extended public comment to two hours. About 250 students attended the meeting to share their opinions about a contentious USAC resolution that would call for the University of California to divest from American companies that some say profit from human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

USAC General Representative Anais Amin said she wanted to extend public comment at Tuesday’s council meeting because a significant number of students attended the meeting to speak.

Amin motioned to extend the public comment session at the meeting, but Rosen denied the proposal because doing so violates the USAC bylaw. Zach Helder, USAC external vice president, added extending the meeting would violate USAC’s bylaws. Extensions must be decided one week in advance as an action item.

Amin added several student groups, including the Armenian Students’ Association at UCLA and Pakistani Students Association at UCLA, contacted her after the meeting and asked her to speak on their behalf about the bylaw changes.

Amber Latif, media coordinator for the Pakistani Students Association, said members were very disappointed they were not given a chance to speak during the meeting. She added she thinks the council should have extended the limit given the number of students present during the meeting.

Rosen said students have the opportunity to speak to council members during their office hours and over email, so their viewpoints can be reflected in the council meetings.

“Public comment shouldn’t be the only thing they rely on to speak to council members,” she said.

Jaimeson Cortez, a fourth-year political science student and a member of LET’S ACT!, a campus political group, said he thinks the council should have extended the comment time at the meeting to accommodate the students speakers, as councils have done in the past.

“I think it’s a real shame public comment was limited, especially when there were students who took the time to come to the council meeting hoping to express their opinions,” Cortez said.

Rosen said students cannot influence council members’ position on resolutions after they have been voted on. She said she discourages council members from adding items to the agenda on the day of meetings to ensure students can meet with council members in advance to discuss agenda items.

Rosen said there are no current plans to extend the time limit for public comment.

A majority of the council would have to approve a bylaw change that would extend public comment sections at meetings.

Senior staff columnist

Tadimeti was the Daily Bruin's Opinion editor from 2017-2019 and an assistant Opinion editor in the 2016-2017 school year. He tends to write about issues pertaining to the higher education, state politics and the administration, and blogs occasionally about computer science. Tadimeti was also the executive producer of the "No Offense, But" and "In the Know" Daily Bruin Opinion podcasts.

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