It has been my pleasure, or more accurately, my displeasure, to watch the operations of our student government for the last four years as a member of The Highlander Newspaper. The inner workings and various happenings of ASUCR would likely have passed me by if I had not been involved in the paper, and likewise it has been my observation that only a small part of the student body is actually aware of how corrupt, self-serving and arrogant the organization has been. It is because of these observations that I wish to advocate for the new members of ASUCR to take a look at their past and consider how they will try to improve upon the tainted record their predecessors have left.
ASUCR, ostensibly the place for student leaders to demonstrate their prowess, has shown that it does not truly value responsibility from its members, by allowing them to do mediocre work and still get paid — to the tune of up to $9,900 a year. The historic GPA requirement for ASUCR representatives was only 2.0 until February 2017, which allowed potentially less dedicated and hard-working individuals to hold office. When other prestigious organizations and positions on campus demand much higher GPAs, it was a severe insult to students that their representatives could be comparative underachievers.
In the past, the members of ASUCR have liked to kill off time at senate meetings — time that could have been used to create actual policy — on empty words for the sake of posturing. The most egregious example of this was when ASUCR wasted time in several meetings on a debate over Sabra hummus in January 2017, which, regardless of the ethics of the sale of Sabra, was ultimately futile, because the resolution that was passed was inherently toothless and incapable of forcing UCR administrators to change their policies. Of course, passing the resolution ended up earning ASUCR favor with pro-Palestinian groups on campus, if not the primarily liberal campus population at large, and thus benefitted the members of the senate without accomplishing anything for the student body as a whole.
There have been numerous instances of abuses of power by figures in ASUCR as far up the ladder as the president. The most recent of these was current President Aram Ayra’s illegal veto of this year’s R’Gear allocation. While the move was motivated by concern for students, especially those facing food insecurity, it was still a move that violated ASUCR’s bylaws and therefore cannot possibly be for the benefit of the campus. Another example is former President Shafi Karim’s questionable October 2016 executive order regarding the appointment of an ASUCR justice, which sparked significant concerns about the functionality of ASUCR with regard to judicial appointments.
The number of people removed from various ASUCR offices is quite high; indeed, it is unacceptably high and is anomalous considering that there has not been even a reprimand or censure, much less an expulsion from office, of a U.S. representative since 2012, and of a U.S. senator since 2011 — these events happening well before the four-year window of time in ASUCR discussed here, and in much larger legal bodies than ASUCR in all its branches. These include the removal of two justices in April 2015, the censure of the president and executive vice president in May 2015, the attempted impeachment of two justices in January 2017, the vacating of the presidential office during that winter quarter and the suit against that same president over elections violations in April 2017.
Perhaps no issue better reflects the pervasive corruption and cronyism in our student government than laptopping, the coercive act of approaching a student using an electronic device and requesting that they vote online, and the resulting damage done to student elections. Issues with laptopping have existed all four years that I have been at UCR: In 2015, the [OUR]Voice party was accused of laptopping, despite an official ban on the practice, prompting administration to threaten intervention; in 2016, ASUCR removed restrictions on laptopping in their bylaws, thereby allowing it into the election legally; in 2017, the bylaws regarding “illegal” laptopping were modified, but laptopping remained legal; and in 2018, laptopping was finally banned again, and made impossible by the elimination of an election website in favor of physical polling places.
And what became of the presence of laptopping? [OUR]Voice, the party which caused major controversy over laptopping, swept through ASUCR, taking a majority of all elected positions. Then in February 2016, they absolved their members who had been censured during the previous year’s election. Thus, because the senate in 2015 was unable to disqualify [OUR]Voice members from running, that party’s corrupt actions netted them absolute control of ASUCR, and then allowed them to legitimize themselves and discredit those who opposed them. Despite protecting their right to continue laptopping, ASUCR faced further controversy when candidates in the 2016 elections raised concerns that laptopping created an unfair election environment, resulting in the Judicial Council’s temporary refusal to validate the election results. The continuing policy of legal laptopping through the 2017 elections casts a shadow of illegitimacy on that year’s results as well, likely prompting the aforementioned decision to outlaw laptopping in the 2018 elections.
We see, therefore, that in the short span of one undergraduate student’s time at UCR, the student government of this school has racked up a number of failures and crimes that make it hard to justify its continuing existence. While I would truly like to see ASUCR disbanded as a whole, and the funds spent on them distributed to other organizations or projects directly so that there are no overpaid middlemen, I also understand the need for students to have representation, which they can realistically only get from a democratically elected student government. Thus, I hope that the new student government-elect will acknowledge the mistakes and misdoings of past members, rather than attempt to justify or downplay them, and work their hardest to regain the trust of the student body to demonstrate that they are in their jobs to actually represent students.