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Breaking down USAC’s role as the governing body of UCLA’s undergraduates

The Undergraduate Students Association Council, the elected undergraduate student government, serves students through its advocacy to the administration and the projects it undertakes, said Emily Hong Van Luong, the council’s internal vice president. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Genesis Qu

Aug. 18, 2020 10:00 a.m.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council is the governing body of the Undergraduate Students Association, whose membership consists of all undergraduate students at UCLA.

Emily Hong Van Luong, the USAC internal vice president, said the council serves students by advocating to the administration on their behalf and undertaking projects that help the student body.

With a budget of more than $9 million, the council has plenty of resources to implement its policies and programmings.

The council includes 15 students who are elected by the undergraduate student body every spring and additional representatives from Associated Students UCLA and campus administration, according to its website. Although all members can deliberate in council meetings, only elected student members can vote.

Seven of the USAC offices are commissions, which apply institutional knowledge about specific areas of expertise like campus infrastructure or student wellness, to offer recurring programming and resources over time, Luong said.

“These projects (continue) year after year, and the next commissioner just adds more on top of it or tries to improve it,” she said.

In comparison, the eight other student officers, including the president, internal vice president and external vice president, bring in their own priorities and projects every year, Luong said.

USAC initiatives – which are funded by student fees – seek to support students, Luong said. The Academic Affairs Commission, for example, reallocates student fees to offer course materials grants, she said. When the pandemic started, the Student Wellness Commission and the Financial Supports Commission repurposed money to provide students COVID-19 relief funds, Luong added.

USAC’s impact depends on how receptive the UCLA administration is to student voices, Luong added.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Naomi Riley, who was the USAC Academic Affairs Commissioner at the time, worked with several other USAC offices to pressure the Academic Senate to loosen its guidelines on finals, Luong said.

However, there are times when the university resists student voices, Luong said.

“I think that it’s pretty clear right now that the student body is not in support of increased policing,” she said. “But at last weekend’s meeting, it was revealed that UCLA’s UCPD budget actually increased.”

Debra Geller, the USAC administrative representative, said USAC has direct influence over campus decision-making by appointing students as voting members on various campus committees.

The USA Elections Board oversees and controls all aspects of the election each spring quarter, which includes the election of council members and voting on referendums, said Navi Sidhu, the elections board chair.

The board recruits potential candidates, manages all election paperwork, makes sure candidates adhere to election guidelines and advertises the election to the student body, Sidhu added.

While the elections board is meant to be independent from political aspects of USAC, the council enforces checks and balances on the board, Sidhu said.

For example, the council must approve the dates and times of different election-related events as well as the official ballot presented by the elections board, he said. USAC also appoints the elections board chair and the directors the chair hires, Sidhu added.

“They can make great allies, but they can also make powerful foes if they’re not willing to cooperate,” Sidhu said.

The USA Judicial Board settles disputes related to the USA constitution, bylaws and USAC, said Ellen Park, the chief justice of the board. The board is independent from both USAC and the elections board, she added.

Students can file a petition through the judicial board if they feel USAC violated a bylaw or the USA constitution, Park said. She added that the judicial board also acts as the appeals court for any of the elections board’s decisions.

The justices serve until they graduate once they are appointed by the USAC president and confirmed by the council, similar to how the U.S. Supreme Court functions, Park said. She added that the board hires two law clerks internally who would traditionally try to be appointed as justices after a year.

Because the judicial board is solely a reactionary body, it does not interfere with USAC’s legislative decisions and policies, Park said.

ASUCLA, which oversees both USAC and USA, provides long-term guidance for USAC and ensures continuity in the succession of council offices, said Roy Champawat, the ASUCLA Student Union director. However, ASUCLA does not seek to interfere with the student representatives or the council’s electoral process, he added.

Champawat said ASUCLA helps the council run its accounting department, provides representatives office space and ensures a smooth transition from an officer to their successor.

The association tries to give an objective characterization of an office’s past policies so newly elected officeholders can make informed decisions on whether to continue past policies or to overturn them, Champawat said.

Although the ASUCLA Board of Directors approves the USA budget, it does not influence how USA allocates money and only checks to ensure fiscal soundness, Champawat said.

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Genesis Qu | Assistant News editor
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