Student government needs increased unity and collaboration to represent students

A divided student government gets us nowhere when collaboration is a core component of ASU

The Undergraduate Student Government’s fear of intercampus and inter-university coordination has marginalized the student voice both within ASU and at the statewide level.

Collaboration is crucial at ASU, and student government must be more unified to better represent students.

See CounterpointUSG is overcomplicated and requires simplification

Despite the lofty ideals during the 2010 creation and 2012 passage of the Undergraduate Student Government Constitution to “provide a unified forum for inter-university dialogue, to organize student involvement, and to advocate for and administer services, resources, and programs that benefit the students of Arizona State University,” the USG works primarily as local campus organizations, and only its four presidents participate in the university-wide decision-making process through the Council of Presidents.

The University Boards & Committees which are supposed to fill the gap are underutilized and plagued by problems with ensuring that representatives are appointed.

When efforts are made such as the One University Senate meeting attempt in the 2014-2015 academic year or the Arizona Student Government Collaborative of the 2015-2016 academic year, they are often killed when one campus refuses to participate.

Typically this falls either on the grounds that it would strip away their ability to deal with local issues or that there simply is no value to working together.

However, these notions are easily refuted by the concept of the New American University that ASU has strived to become and numerous examples of where intercampus and inter-university coordination have richly rewarded members of the ASU community.

ASU proudly proclaims itself to be “One University in Many Places” which is featured in a report of the same name produced in 2004 that outlined today’s federal model of university governance.

Further, our peers in the Graduate and Professional Student Association’s decided to open their doors to all graduate students on any campus in 2009, a mere 10 years after the beginning of the movement in 1999.

But worth the most examination is the faculty’s University Senate consolidation into a university-wide body in 2008.

This was not only an achievement in supplementing the expansive network of academic assemblies in colleges and schools, but also balancing the different types of faculty.

Director of the University Senate Office Charles Barbee said, “Our Senate doesn’t just represent tenure track, it represents all lecturers, senior lecturers, contract faculty all the way down to the instructor level.”

To do this, the University Senate employs an executive council called the University Academic Council of Campus Presidents, campus president-elects, and past presidents from each of the campuses as well as a senate president they select. This group meets multiple times a month, according to incoming University Senate President Arnold Maltz.

Additionally though, outgoing University Senate President Kathleen Puckett highlighted the committee structure as key to the success of the organization. 

“The work has to be in the committees," Puckett said. "You can’t get a lot of stuff done. You can discuss things as our UAC equivalent, but the committee structure is the strength. That’s where the work is done.”

Meanwhile, the faculty have gotten another issue correct in coordinating across university lines with the Arizona Faculties Council, which represents the faculty governments at ASU, UA and NAU.

Puckett serves as the representative to the Arizona Board of Regents this year and states that the AFC coordinates with ABOR to review a lot of the items on the Academic and Student Affairs Committees and have not had any problems working together.

Students used to have a similar umbrella organization called the Arizona Students’ Association. ASA’s job was to coordinate statewide political actions for ASU, UA and NAU through a two-dollar fee levied on all students in the Arizona public university system.

Ironically almost immediately after our own intercampus unification efforts concluded, the USG Presidents withdrew from the ASA Board of Directors in Fall of 2012 in a political disagreement over the use of the fee money in support of Proposition 204 to make a temporary sales tax that went to education permanent.

Since this episode, student governments across Arizona have struggled to provide a consistent voice on student issues at the Capitol such as over this year’s Senate Bill 1061 to establish two percent caps on tuition hikes which the Associated Students of the University of Arizona supported while our own representatives opposed the bill.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

ASU actively seeks out and works with other universities across the nation in the University Innovation Alliance and across the globe in the PLuS Alliance despite the competition and potential perception that it may just add more paperwork.

Faculty collaborations such as the PAC12 Academic Leadership Coalition provide sounding boards for discussions like how to increase student safety and support international students.

And there is a need for more communication as shown by some of our students.

"One of our big issues with the student government is that the members of the student government are chained by the administration," said Tanzil Chowdhury, co-chair of Students for a Democratic Society ASU.

Chowdhury said his group would like to “see a lot more openness and a lot more willingness to work with student organizations.” He explains for instance that the procurement process could be made simpler, which has been a discussion point for several years among the USGs, and for the USG to have more communication with political student groups before elections and major decisions.

So how should we start?

It all comes down to trust.

“I think that in order to rebuild that trust, student leaders across the state really need to get in the same room together," said Shayna Stevens, executive director of ASA. "Doesn’t mean the start of it has to be an initiative or an issue or anything like that. The start of it literally needs to be rebuilding the trust of student leaders across the state of Arizona and rebuilding the trust in organizations like ASA, student government organizations on campus and other community organizations that student governments should be partnering with on their campuses.”

Let’s hope and demand that our student governments are listening as they end up in that same room during ABOR meetings this week in Flagstaff.


Reach the columnist at raboyd@asu.edu or follow @RyanAndrewBoyd on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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