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Editorial: USAC’s incompetence exemplified by lack of Academic Senate appointments

By Editorial Board

February 24, 2019 9:22 pm

This post was updated Feb. 25 at 4:36 p.m.

Undergraduate representation in academia could have died by a thousand cuts.

This year, though, it took only 20.

The Academic Senate is a decision-making machine of academic life at UCLA. Each year, prominent faculty and more than 40 student representatives come together to make decisions on anything from a history minor to commenting on University of California Presidential Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment.

The all-important burden of appointing students to the Academic Senate falls on the Undergraduate Students Association Council and the Graduate Students Association. Nidirah Stephens, this year’s USAC Academic Affairs commissioner, however, failed to appoint 20 of her 21 allotted undergraduate student representatives to the Academic Senate for more than half the school year.

The Academic Senate’s proceedings went on, though, meaning Stephens excluded student voices from the process. The reason? Apparently, there weren’t enough students willing to put in the time.

Sounds a lot like someone’s dog ate their homework.

These open seats exemplify the gross incompetence that undergraduate students unfortunately have come to expect from their student government. The Academic Senate is tasked with setting academic policy – a mission whose work inevitably touches every student on campus. Decisions made by the body affect enrollment, degree requirements and procedures for awarding student scholarships – lately, even whether the SAT and ACT should be used in admissions.

Considering USAC elections are just around the corner, it’s clear undergraduates were robbed of their rightful representation this year.

And administrators took note. Rene Ong, chair of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools, told the Daily Bruin the Senate has seen strong student representation on his committee for the past two years. This year was the exception.

“Students are fantastically important for our committee in particular because it deals with undergraduate admissions. … Their experience is unique because people on the committee haven’t gone through the process typically in some time,” Ong said.

It’s not just admissions, though. Thanks to last year’s Academic Affairs Commission, the Academic Senate has been drafting policy for providing students with accommodations in times of emergency – something painfully lacking when the Skirball fire raged on less than two miles away from campus before the fall 2017 finals week. Student voices are imperative in these kinds of discussions, and yet Stephens seemed to have forgotten that for all of eight months.

And we shouldn’t forget: Appointing students to the Academic Senate is the most important job of the AAC.

Adding insult to injury, last year’s council grudgingly approved the 2018 USAC elections, despite proven accounts of voter coercion, because it didn’t want to hamstring incoming council members from fulfilling their appointment duties. In fact, Stephens’ need to appoint students to the Academic Senate seemed to be the express reason last year’s AAC, Divya Sharma, approved the questionable election results.

In other words, Stephens quite literally didn’t do her one job.

To her credit, this year’s AAC confirmed seven candidates to the Academic Senate last week. But academic policy is a slow-moving locomotive that requires time, patience and perseverance to navigate and shape. Previous commissioners spent weeks with their appointees to draft and push for policy changes. This year’s only have about nine before the next AAC is elected.

Condemning Stephens’ incompetence is easy. Ensuring such incompetence does not recur is harder.

In the end, however, common sense dictates that student leaders have to step up and do the jobs for which they are elected – and not give excuses if they can’t.

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