UCR’s Associated Students serve several purposes, the most important being their representation of students from each distinct college within the university. While in theory this should be an opportunity for students to gain knowledge about local politics and, ultimately, an appreciation for civic duty, ASUCR has often fallen short of this ideal.
While no government or bureaucratic system is perfect, they are vital to the functioning of a society. It can be easy to dismiss a college’s student government, but it is important to keep in mind that they do have a level of authority relevant to students, whose fees can be increased, for example, and as such should be examined seriously and held accountable for their decisions. ASUCR’s members get paid more than any other UC student body government, but it is incredibly difficult to justify that salary given their general lack of efficacy.
ASUCR has done good things for students in the past, including adding solar charging booths, hosting a women’s march and helping to pass referenda like the Highlander Student Empowerment Referendum and the Highlander Abroad Referendum. However, the organization has also faced many difficulties over this past year, including a lack of student engagement and transparency as well as some less than ethical behavior.
Transparency is a major issue, having been brought up by students several times during recent meetings. Notices for meetings and legislation are rarely given 48 hours advance, and are, in fact, sporadic at best. This lack of adherence to the bylaws was subsequently dismissed by the judicial council when they sided with current Executive Vice President Andrea Cuevas on a variety of issues, including the firing of Parliamentarian Jose Rodriguez and the lack of 48-hour notice for meetings. These actions are not the problem, but they are a symptom — the true problems lie in the vagueness of the bylaws and an insular mindset whereby members of an organization fail to protect the students they’ve promised to represent and instead opt to protect their own colleagues.
Student engagement is another issue for ASUCR. The past two years’ elections have been riddled with problems, the most notable of which being a lack of participation in voting among students. There are many factors at play with regard to this particular issue, as outreach efforts could be lacking, accessibility to information about candidates and referenda has been difficult and student apathy towards community engagement might be lacking no matter how visible the elections are. Aside from the lack of turnout, vote counting problems and elections code violations have also resulted in difficulties which, it could be argued, were mostly fumbled by all of the branches of ASUCR.
The fact that senators must pass three pieces of legislation per quarter incentivizes a kind of race to the bottom where senators have the option to pass arbitrary bills and so do not feel pressured to engage further. Recently the student government was called out for not visiting Costo Hall, suggesting a lack of attention to the needs of the communities residing there. Even after President Semi Cole asked that everyone stand and pledge to make an effort to meet with said communities, only one senator made the effort to visit the Middle Eastern Student Center.
This being said, when judging ASUCR’s members it is important to consider the fact that they themselves are busy students with other obligations, and as most students are quick to say, college life is stressful. It is unreasonable to expect the student body government, or any government for that matter, to appease everybody all of the time. A balance must be struck between ASUCR’s capabilities and its individual members’ own capacities.
Although it can seem often appear as though ASUCR is largely self-interested rather than earnestly engaged with the students they represent, their power is limited in the grand scheme of things. Most if not all of the resolutions passed in the Senate are promises to take further action on a matter. The school administration has far more power to affect students’ lives and experiences, considering their oversight of drastic decisions.
This is not meant to smear ASUCR. They have accomplished goals that have bettered the lives of students on campus, and the organization continues to serve as an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of the role of government in people’s lives. There have, however, undoubtedly been instances of oversight, negligence and corruption, and it is up to students to hold their representatives accountable. ASUCR needs to improve on communication, as most of the student body is completely unaware of their government and representatives.
Moving forward should ideally entail students being more proactive on campus. While there are significant issues with ASUCR, as there are likely issues with many student governments, it is imperative for students to vote, hold their elected officials accountable and stay abreast of the issues that may have an impact on them and their community.