A Critique of The Operating of UCSA
UCSA congress has always held a special place in politics for me. From its voting method to its impromptu cafeteria coalitions, the entire process is filled with the energy and reflective inefficiency of true Democracy. Last summer, spending $.10 a minute in a Quito Internet cafe, I eagerly checked what the students had voted on to be their yearlong campaign. I was more than delighted to see they had chosen Regent Reform. Similar campaigns had come up before, but their dry procedural nature, though tangibly able to increase the students' control of their future, caused them to get lost amongst the charismatic speeches supporting the more sexy campaigns. But this year regent reform had been fairly elected by the UC students just as the other campaigns had in the past. The democratic process had selected a campaign I loved just as it had selected others I didn't always agree with. I respected those other campaigns however. The Congress, with an engaged, informed and intelligent population of voters taking days to hash out details, represented the height of true democratic process. To not respect the campaigns this congress picked would be have to no faith in the process of Democracy itself. This year however the plan was set, the history explained, and the troops ready for the first Regental Reform in 30 years. I expected the UCSA board and the various lobby corps to push hard for this campaign just as I and they had done in the past with other campaigns.
And then, nothing. The campaign was dropped with zero outside progress made. My next three weeks were dedicated to finding out why the board had turned against the student's wishes. The investigation allowed me to find some major inefficiencies with UCSA that I believe all helped contribute in some way to this and past controversial decisions by the board. First was the fact that the UCSA board minutes and agendas are not readily available. They are not on the official website (specifically no documents can be found under the "Document" section as of 8/6/13), nor are they posted on their official Facebook page. This caused many students concern last summer when the board released a statement urging divestment from Israel. Not making minutes readily available is against the California Constitution as well; Art. I Sec. 3 (b)(1-3) and Art. IV Sec. 7.
I knew from the website and my work in BLC that the lobby corps and board were working heavily on a campaign called Fighting Incarceration Reclaiming Education (FIRE), a noble cause, but one brought up as a supposed afterthought months after congress. With no minutes to see the discussion about the swap between Regent Reform and the FIRE Campaign, I had to start asking people knowledgeable about both campaigns and the board members themselves. This is where I found a second major stumbling block. No one seemed to be able to tell me what was going on with anything. Many couldn't recount events, only able to provide me with generally what happened. They had trouble finding even personal minutes so that the order of things could not be confirmed. I also heard from various people close to each campaign that: the regent reform was supposed to be a two year campaign, that regent reform legislation was written, and that the FIRE campaign was brought to the students. Only the written legislation seemed to pan out.
With the help of some sympathetic board members and campaign leaders I was able to attain enough documents to tie together just how Regent Reform was dropped and the FIRE campaign taken up. On Oct 13th the UCSA Board of Directors was first notified that a grant proposal had been submitted the day before to Rosenberg Foundation for $25,000. On the 16th board members were notified that they were not bound to accepting the money and that the board themselves could decide once they knew if the grant was awarded or not. However if they accepted the grant, all money would specifically have to go into prison reform. The president of UCSA at the time justified this move by saying it only opened up opportunity for board money, while not restricting them to the president's wishes and thus was an appropriate use of her office to apply. I completely agree with this. However the board did not take it to the various students. On Dec. 10 the Organizing and Communications Director announced to the board that, "The Rosenberg Foundation grant to work on prison reform was approved!" The president made an interim decision and accepted the money. The board at a later date approved this decision. Once again there is no public record that could have told any students this was going to be talked about, or that it was decided and voted on after the fact. In many EVP offices they were not even aware of the money. Even before the dropping of Regent Reform, prison reform took considerable resources as a full time intern was hired to help in the task.
When it came time to plan for the Student Lobby Conference (SLC) in March, regent reform was not in the talking points. This was because the legislative director could not find an author for the bill the students wanted. She then suggested it be made into a two-year bill. This is understandable as big paradigm changing bills usually need a culture started around them first (See Fund the UC). At the next UCSA Board meeting in April, in the undergraduate caucus, there was an unofficial vote to change the focus of Regent Reform away from the student campaign and towards filling Regental vacancies with student-friendly appointments. The board justified this by saying that a "potential author" wanted to see support and coalitions before moving forward with Regent Reform. For this to be accomplished the board would need to devote considerable attention and resources to Regent Reform for the rest of the year. A divided board voted and chose to drop Regent Reform completely and focus all attention on the FIRE Campaign. As far as I know (once again no minutes), the full board never officially voted making their decision completely behind closed doors (even if Art. I Sec. 3 prohibits this behavior specifically).
This is the third problem I see that allowed for this reversal to happen. The board has not actively held themselves accountable to the various students who voted them in and pay for the resources they use and stipends they receive. Worst of all they dropped the student-selected campaign while completely within the bounds of their powers. Yet I still find this unacceptable as UCSA actively uses the numbers it has behind them to influence policy. In lobby visits at the various schools as well as at SLC, lobbyists are encouraged to use the support of the entire UCSA student population to get politicians attention. In lobby visits FIRE was presented as a campaign of the students, citing the number of students that belong to UCSA as their legitimacy. And yet the campaign these same students organized and voted on was dropped. The students' voice was purchased for $25,000 dollars. So I ask our new UCLA board member and board member designates: Maryssa Hall, Tyler Cherry, Anthony Phan and Andrea Chu, what will you do to make sure this does not happen again? How will you make sure when you use our numbers and our money that it is truly in line with our wishes? How will you make sure that UCSA Congress actually means something and is not just an expensive fancy show like last year’s congress?