Abolish student government: The case against ASUA
If you have to cross the UA Mall on your way to class, enjoy your walk while you still can.
Student government campaigns will soon begin in earnest, and that means one thing: fliers, petitions and near-constant harassment from aspiring candidates.
It's the same every year. Weeks of rushed campaigning and stupid campaign promises. An uninspiring election with low turnout. Finally, inauguration - the passing of a mediocre torch to a new class of elected leaders. In the face of this annual circus of the absurd, students ought to ask themselves one important question: Why the hell do we keep student government around?
There's no good answer, but there is a solution to the problem: abolish it altogether. Our student government is illegitimate, unrepresentative and wasteful, and I hope you'll seriously consider the following case against the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.
ASUA is illegitimate.
According to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an independent monitor of global voting trends, the West African nation of Mali has the lowest voter turnout in the world. Each year, a startlingly low number of voters turn out for elections - somewhere between 20 and 30 percent.
If only ASUA were so lucky. Voter turnout for student government elections never ceases to disappoint. In fact, it's so bad that we don't talk about it in terms of percentages, but in terms of actual votes. Turnout was 3,967 last year (10.8 percent of potential voters), 4,060 the year before (11.1 percent), and 4,452 in 2005 (12.1 percent). ASUA can make no legitimate claim to represent students when 90 percent of those ostensibly represented by student government don't even bother to vote. One-in-ten students isn't a mandate for student government. It's a massive mandate of apathy against it.
ASUA is not representative.
Besides, ASUA is simply not designed to be a representative democracy. The ASUA constitution lists ""all students registered at the University of Arizona"" as constituents (that's rightð - they claim to represent you, and you can't opt out). Each of the ten student senators who make up ASUA's legislative arm are supposed to represent every student on campus. In theory that means they're a voice for everyone. In practice, that means they're a voice for no one, representing whatever they want with little concern for articulating real opinion. After all, when was the last time one of your senators called or sent an e-mail about an important policy issue on campus?
ASUA performs no valid functions of government.
Fortunately, the UA doesn't have borders to protect, sovereignty to defend or contracts to enforce. That leaves student government with two main functions - cooking up legislation and providing services. Unfortunately, ASUA is marginalized in real policymaking discussions. The annual inability of student leaders to influence the tuition-setting debate is the most public example of this exclusion.
Since they do little actual legislating, the only remaining authority granted to ASUA is to provide services, the most inefficient function of governments everywhere. But provide them they do ð- SafeRide, Spring Fling, Zona Zoo, laptop loans, legal services, CatsRIDDE, Pride Alliance, Women's Resource Center, Bear Down Camp, Freshman Class Council, plus the pet projects of every elected senator. ASUA isn't a government-it's a list of services four stories high.
What about student clubs? One of ASUA's major duties is appropriating an annual budget of $100,000 to clubs and groups across campus, a process that requires funding requests to be heard by an appropriations board, the student senate, approved by the president and managed by a treasurer. Student groups ought to get some stipend from the university - but there's no need for clubs to plea before a cartel that doles out cash. ASUA's club funding budget should be preserved, but apportioning it by number of members in each particular club, rather than the whims of students would be both more equitable and less controversial (plug ""David Reece"" into the Wildcat's search box for a look at the sordid history of student appropriations).
Finally, the useful services that ASUA provides could operate just as smoothly as independent clubs - perhaps even more effectively without loads of bureaucratic oversight from ASUA. Some programs, like SafeRide and Zona Zoo, are widely used and worthwhile. They ought to be spun off and operated independently, funded by individual student fees (like KAMP Student Radio) or independent fundraising. In fact, to some degree, they already are. SafeRide recieves thousands of dollars in grants each year. But there's no need for a clique of student politicians to administer student organizations when they can run themselves perfectly well.
ASUA promotes political apathy.
Exclusion from policy discussions and failure to voice student opinion is a dangerous combination, because it gives the university administration a complacent buffer between their actions and student opinion. As long as ASUA exists, they will turn to our excluded, impotent student leaders as the voice of students - rather than to students themselves. Without a student government, individual students would be more aware of campus policy debates, instead of delegating their responsibility to others.
ASUA is poor training for future leaders.
Many students interested in future political careers are involved in ASUA. Unfortunately, our student government sends them a terrible message: government is about creating programs and allocating other people's money. Students are elected by promising to start cool new services, and re-elected by doling out money to their favorite clubs. Let me be clear: student leaders aren't bad people. Many of them work with diligence and integrity. But ASUA teaches pork-barrel politics at its worst.
ASUA wastes your money.
ASUA spends a lot of your money. Out of a total budget of just over a million dollars, $258,221 is transferred from Student Affairs and $563,900 from UofA Bookstore profits, much of which comes from your wallet one way or another. To be fair, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by ASUA each year comes from grants, donations, or profit-generating programs like Spring Fling. But a pretty penny is still collected directly or indirectly from students. Abolish ASUA (and the $84,363 in stipends and $328,948 in salaries it pays out) and the cash could endow a star professor or pay off the tuition of hundreds of students. Even better, it could go back to students to spend as they see fit.
Fortunately, there is one component of the ASUA constitution we should wholeheartedly support: Article VIII, which allows initiative and referendum to amend the constitution. Here's my humble suggestion:
""Article XIII: The legislative, executive and judicial branches of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona are to be abolished by August 25, 2008. All offices, with the exception of ASUA president, are to be eliminated with expediency. The president's sole duty shall be to oversee the prudent abolition, liquidation and transition of current ASUA offices and programs. All programs and services currently provided by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona will be designated as individual clubs, to be operated independently of central authority. All property currently owned by ASUA shall be sold at auction and proceeds from the sale returned to students as a tuition credit. On August 25, 2008, the office of president shall be abolished, and the contents of this constitution declared null and void.""
ASUA: consider this column a challenge. Put this amendment to a vote in this year's general elections. If you win a mandate, you may claim to be legitimate. If not, you have no right to exist.
Of course, if the senate doesn't have the courage, concerned students can still ensure a vote. Signatures from 10 percent of the student body can put this amendment on the March ballot.
We don't need a better student government. We need none at all. If you're sick of ASUA, circulate a petition and make this proposition a reality.
Connor Mendenhall is a sophomore majoring in economics and international studies and the opinions editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.