Several years of concerns about the Arizona Students’ Association, a nonprofit organization funded by student fees, culminated in late September when three ASU student leaders resigned from their positions on ASA’s Board of Directors.
Tempe Undergraduate Student Body President Mark Naufel, Polytechnic campus President Jeffrey Hebert and Downtown campus President Joseph Grossman all left ASA’s board, which is made up of student body presidents from the three public universities who appoint additional members and representatives from the universities’ Graduate and Professional Student associations.
West campus president Luke Webster declined a position at the beginning of the year.
A professional staff, made up of nine members, supplements the board of student directors.
An executive director who is accountable to the Board of Directors oversees the hiring and firing of the permanent professional staff.
The annual election of student body presidents causes turnover on the Board of Directors, but professional staff members hold longer terms.
Naufel said he resigned from ASA because the organization is flawed and student money is not being spent responsibly.
ASA funds come from a $2 fee public university students are automatically charged every semester.
While this fee is optional and students can ask for a refund, few students do.
According to the ASA website, the organization uses the money to advocate for “affordable and accessible” higher education in the Arizona legislature.
Naufel said he felt he needed to step down from the organization to raise his concerns about the ASA with students.
He had been asking about the legitimacy of the fee within the organization, and questioning students about their knowledge of the due.
“I got an email sent to me pretty much threatening to take legal action against me if I continued to question or ask students about the fee,” Naufel said.
In the email, ASA Executive Director Casey Dreher said, “The actions you want to take are your own, and up to you to decide. I just want to ensure that you know the repercussions of each decision because I would hate for any of you to get into legal trouble where neither the University nor ASA could provide you with representation.”
At that point, Naufel said he decided to leave the organization in order to speak out for students.
“If we didn’t do something now, it would just go next year and next year and next year, and the problem would still remain,” Naufel said.
According to the budget posted on ASA’s website, the organization spends 62 percent of its $602,908 budget on staff salaries and related expenses.
Naufel said the undergraduate student governments could hire student interns for significantly less to do the job of the permanent staff, and then the power would be entirely in student hands.
“I don’t want our students influenced and manipulated by the staff and that’s what is going on right now,” Naufel said.
Dreher said students are the directing force behind the organization. The staff is there to help facilitate the Board of Directors’ vision for ASA.
“It’s not my job to implement change,” Dreher said. “Students direct the staff.”
Vice-chairman of the board Jordan King, a UA business and economics senior, said in his experience the ASA staff members let students lead the organization.
The board is definitely able to ask the staff to take a step back, King said.
Without permanent staff members, the organization would not be able to effectively campaign for students, he said.
“If it was just (us), everything would be chaotic,” King said.
Political science junior Megan Riley, who is still serving on the Board of Directors representing the Tempe USG, said she has never felt influenced by the staff.
While she has gone to the staff for their professional expertise on some issues, Riley said she thinks the board does drive the organization.
“ASA does good things for students,” Riley said.
One of ASA’s big campaigns this semester has been supporting Proposition 204, a ballot initiative that would extend a 1-cent sales tax for education. They have given $120,000 this year in support of the measure.
“I support (Proposition) 204, but I don’t think we should be using student fee money to fund any political campaigning like that,” Naufel said.
A recent report by the Goldwater Institute also questioned the legality of these contributions.
Instead, the university student governments could independently come together and lobby for political issues more effectively, Naufel said
Naufel, Grossman and Hebert are not the first ASU student body presidents to cite the need for change within the organization.
Grossman, who is in his second term as USGD president, proposed 11 changes to the ASA bylaws last year, but only two of them were passed, Naufel said.
One of the reforms was a simple name change, Naufel said.
ASA Board members in the 2009-10 academic year also expressed frustration with the organization.
Justin Boren, then the GPSA president, said in 2010 that the whole structure of the organization was flawed.
Naufel said actually achieving reform within the organization is difficult because of the yearly turnover of board members.
“The organization and staff know that they can send (reform bills) off to committee and buy enough time that the next year will come and everything starts over again,” Naufel said.
King said he agrees that the organization needs reform, but wishes Naufel and the other USG presidents had decided to work within the organizatiton for change.
This weekend’s Flagstaff ASA board meeting, which will include the four ASU ASA representatives who did not resign, will be focused on proposing organizational reforms, King said.
He said he wants to eliminate the effect of the yearly board member turnover, which hinders change.
Naufel said the future of ASA at ASU depends on an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Tempe USG Senate.
They are reviewing the situation and will come to a conclusion on whether to withdraw support from ASA later in the year.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org