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Editorial: Student leaders should keep the powerful in check, not cut them a check

By Editorial Board

February 10, 2019 10:33 pm

UCLA’s student leaders recently have come under the illusion they’re playing a game of catch with their vested power.

The thing is, administrators don’t pass back.

The Student Fee Advisory Committee, a body of students, faculty and staff that advises the chancellor on how to allocate tens of thousands of dollars in student fees, rejected a proposal three weeks ago to cap salaries for administrators, a motion put forward by the Graduate Students Association to ensure more university money was spent on students.

The students on the committee didn’t reject the proposal based on its merits, though. Instead, one member said he believed they voted against the proposal based on fear of damaging their relationship with administrators, despite feeling personally the cap would help students.

The sudden, hard cap of $202,000 on the salaries of administrators is no doubt an inelegant solution compared to more substantive ideas such as advocating for changes in the administrative structure of UCLA. But students once again ceded their power when they could have sent a message that cutting checks for administrators wasn’t a priority.

Once again.

This kind of what-if decision-making has become a trend in the realm of student leadership. Student leaders recently have seen fit to outsource their power to administrators, or make decisions based on administrators’ preferences. That’s an especially troubling trend since these leaders are elected or appointed to make choices based on student interests, which do not necessarily align with those of university leadership.

The sorest example of deference to administration was during last year’s undergraduate student government elections. The Undergraduate Students Association Council Election Board decided to disqualify a candidate for coercing voters to vote for her. But the election board chair overruled his board’s decision, admitting it was because of administrative pressure not to reopen what was seen as an already settled case.

[Editorial: Administrators have overstepped role in USAC election process]

In fact, USAC members have deferred on a number of occasions over the past few years to administrators when it comes to crucial decisions. Members have, in the midst of discussion, asked administrative representatives for their opinions on an issue. Seeking guidance about procedural issues from university leaders versed in bureaucracy is justified, but basing decisions on those same members’ opinions is a dereliction of duty.

After all, these are the same administrators who sought to exclude students from participating in the Student Conduct Committee – which hears cases of student misconduct and must include student representatives – and who said monetarily settling with those found to have committed sexual harassment or sexual assault can be beneficial to victims of the crimes.

This pathetic trend continued at the recent SFAC meeting. Student governments recommend their respective undergraduate and graduate members for appointment to the committee. Ostensibly, as appointees of elected student officials, they have a responsibility to represent and protect student interests.

Instead, they cowered in front of administrators. If these student representatives are going to make decisions based on what administrators want, there’s no purpose in actually having student representation – there would be no difference between the status quo and letting administrators call the shots unilaterally.

Student SFAC members might have felt that passing the salary cap would affect their working relationship with Chancellor Gene Block. But when you’re in a position of power, you’re going to have to make the hard decisions. Making a decision just to please administrators doesn’t cut it.

It also ensures you drop the ball every time.

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