The ASUA Senate voted 6-4 Wednesday to reject a resolution that would have declared the senate’s opposition to a statewide student lobbying group’s use of student fee money to fund a lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents.
The resolution, drafted by ASUA Sens. Valerie Hanna and Logan Bilby, explicitly declared the senate’s support for the Arizona Students’ Association, an organization that aims to represent Arizona university students at the state Legislature, but opposed the use of “monies derived from Arizona public university students” to file suit against the regents. The distinction became a key point during discussion at Wednesday’s meeting of the
Associated Students of the University of Arizona Senate.
“A lot of people kind of put words in my mouth, things I in no way wanted to say or tried to say,” said ASUA Sen. Morgan Abraham, who voted in favor of the resolution. “In no way was this discussion supposed to be about whether ASA is a positive or negative organization … it was just kind of surprising to hear the discussion take that turn.”
However, some members of the ASUA Senate spoke firmly about their commitment to ASA and its decision to sue.
“I was not in support of the resolution and I was definitely happy with the outcome,” said Sen. Danielle Novelly. “I think it’s best for us, right now, to just stand behind ASA’s decision because
this is the best way for them to get their student voice heard.”
At the meeting, ASA directors spoke to the senate about the organization’s mission and its decision to pursue a lawsuit.
“In doing this it was truly, we felt, our last resort to come forward and really ask the Board of Regents to take us seriously,” said ASUA President Katy Murray, who also serves as an ASA director. “Beyond that, it’s really about us as students being able to have an organization that allows us to fight for what we believe in and not necessarily have to always go through administration, or not always have to go up to the Board of Regents.”
The resolution’s failure puts the UA undergraduate student government at odds with student leaders at Arizona State University, and likely with Northern Arizona University’s student government.
NAU’s undergraduate student senate is expected to vote tonight to pass a resolution declaring its opposition to the lawsuit. ASU leaders are weighing a proposal to sever ties with the organization completely by changing ASU student government bylaws.
“I believe all three universities should be on the same page, or at least two universities advocating for it,” Bilby said. “I am concerned about the fact that not all three universities are together so when you have litigation along these lines, that we’re not truly representing all three universities.”
Jordan King, an ASA director from the UA, said communication with NAU is ongoing and he will speak with the senate over the phone during its meeting tonight.
King said he had expected the resolution to fail in the ASUA Senate. He added that he was glad for the opportunity ASA directors and Murray had to share their reasoning.
However, some members of the senate were unsatisfied with the direction the meeting took.
“Senators were talking about how this affects students and you hear from four ASA directors during our discussion,” Hanna said. “I just would have liked us to stay on track with what students wanted and not bring ASA directors’ conflict of interest into this.”
ASA first came under scrutiny last fall when the organization donated $120,000 to a political campaign in support of Proposition 204, which would have renewed a one-cent sales tax for education funding. The proposition failed in November.
In response to concerns raised by student government leaders at ASU, regents began questioning the use of fee money collected from students on behalf of ASA. In November, the board suspended the fee’s collection for the spring semester.
ASA filed suit against the regents on Feb. 12, following ABOR’s decision to require each student to explicitly agree to pay a $2 per semester fee before it could be collected for ASA. The lawsuit states, “The Board of Regents suspended and modified its policies governing the collection of the ASA student fee in retaliation for ASA’s advocacy in support of Proposition 204 and in violation of ASA’s free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
“Although I’m not really happy the way it [the vote] turned out, I’m happy we had a discussion,” Bilby said. “At the end I guess we’ll see how the lawsuit turns out and if it ends up being beneficial to students. I was never against the lawsuit; I was just against the idea of using student fee money.”