NAU student body senate to vote whether to support ASA's lawsuit against ABOR
ASUA senate debates whether ASA's litigation will benefit UA students
After a statewide student lobbying group filed a federal lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents, the student body senate at NAU will vote tonight on whether or not to continue its support for the litigation.
The senate’s decision could further divide the student governments of Arizona’s three universities and leaders within the Arizona Students’ Association, an organization that lobbies for higher education at the state Legislature.
Two NAU senators have drafted a resolution opposing further legal action against the Board of Regents. The NAU senate will vote on it in a special session at 9 p.m., according to NAU student body president Sammy Smart.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month in response to the regents’ decision to require students to explicitly agree to a $2-per-semester fee prior to payment collected on behalf of ASA.
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat Regent Dennis DeConcini speaks at the Board of Regents' November meeting, where the board suspended a fee for the Arizona Students' Association. ASA has filed a lawsuit in response. Board of Regents
“We haven’t officially taken a stance on [the lawsuit], because we’ve been waiting for the senators to vote on this resolution,” Smart said. “Once they vote we will be able to say whether we’re for or against this. We wanted to make sure elected leaders on campus were the ones voting on this.”
ASA faces more controversy
The regents were served Feb. 13 with the lawsuit, which alleges that the board violated free speech rights of ASA.
The suit is the latest development in a controversy that began last fall, when students from Arizona State University began questioning ASA’s decision to donate more than $100,000 to a political campaign. The regents suspended the ASA fee in November, with plans to make a final decision this semester.
ASA leaders accused the regents of punishing the organization for the campaign donations by suspending the fee, though the board denies this claim.
“In recent years, however, the Board has received student complaints about ASA, including concerns raised by ASU student government representatives who withdrew from the ASA Board over their dissatisfaction with ASA governance, and concerns stemming from a 2006 lawsuit against a former ASA director who embezzled ASA funds — funds which are still being repaid to the organization today,” said Rick Myers, regents chairman, in an official statement.
In December, the ASA Board of Directors passed a resolution that would allow the organization to take “all necessary actions, which includes the initiation of litigation, against the Arizona Board of Regents.”
In February, rather than killing the fee, regents voted to make it opt-in only. Students must first agree to the fee, prior to payment, rather than have the charge appear automatically with their tuition bills. ASA filed the lawsuit shortly after the decision.
Representatives on the ASA board from NAU put forth a resolution Feb. 11 to halt litigation, but the resolution required unanimous support. It failed 9 to 5.
“The majority was not in support of moving forward with litigation,” Smart said.
NAU directors are discussing their options if the resolution does pass.
“We have to see what we can do as directors to either stop litigation, or it’s just going to be a public announcement to our students that said, ‘Your elected leaders were not in support of this decision,’” Smart said.
UA student leaders react
Some members of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona Senate informally met last week with ASUA President Katy Murray and Jordan King, an ASA director from the UA, regarding the lawsuit against ABOR.
“Right now, me and some other senators are just looking into whether the actions made by ASA are beneficial for the students or just beneficial for ASA,” said Sen. Morgan Abraham, an engineering junior. “We’re just trying to do our best and make sure we’re representing our students to the best of our capabilities.”
At the meeting, King said the ASA Board of Directors took a poll to measure support for the suit. Based on the discussion, the board decided to move forward without a second official vote, King said.
However, directors believed in December that the resolution was necessary because the fee would be cut entirely and were told then that the board would vote again if ASA chose to pursue a lawsuit, Smart said.
“The official vote that was taken was in December,” King said. “It does not state in our bylaws that we need to have another vote. After that vote, there was no more needed vote as far as the board goes.”
The NAU senate’s confusion and its resolution came from “being caught off-guard,” King said.
“I feel once we can adequately communicate with the NAU student senate and their student government as a whole, they’ll understand and we can move past this,” he added.
However, the NAU senate’s actions came as a surprise to other UA student leaders.
“I didn’t know there was a resolution being put together, so at this time I would say we don’t have a response,” Murray said.
She reiterated her support for the litigation, saying that, “it was something that was voted on as the ASA directors as a board.
Being a member of the board, I support the board’s decision.”
But members from the ASUA Senate echoed some of the doubts expressed by NAU.
“I was just really confused how something like this could better the students,” Abraham said. “We try to work with ABOR as much as possible. They’re appointed to hopefully make the best decisions for students, so something like this really confuses me.”