The ASUA Senate will vote tonight on a formal declaration of its opposition to a legal battle being waged against the Arizona Board of Regents by a statewide student lobbying group.
If the resolution passes, it will formally divide UA student government officials. The federal lawsuit, which was filed last week, is being backed by Katy Murray, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, and the Graduate and Professional Student Council.
The resolution declares the senate’s support for ASA’s mission, but opposes the use of “monies derived from Arizona public university students” to file suit against the regents.
“What is in our hands is representing our students and representing them in the way that we think is best,” said Sen. Logan Bilby, a co-sponsor of the resolution. “Myself and [Sen.] Valerie [Hanna] talked about how we didn’t believe the student fee money was appropriate to be used in that way.”
Generally, senators discuss proposals and wait until the next week to vote, but some senators said they wanted to act quickly.
“Senators that I’ve talked to just felt this was a really pressing issue, especially since we’re so concerned with student fee money being used,” said Sen. Valerie Hanna, the resolution’s other sponsor. “Technically, every day that goes by means more student fee money being spent.”
ASA first came under scrutiny last fall, when the organization donated $120,000 to a political campaign in support of Prop. 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 Arizona State University, 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 ABOR on Feb. 12, following the regents’ decision to require each student to explicitly agree to pay a $2 per semester fee before it could be collected for ASA.
In December, the ASA board had voted by a wide majority to take legal action against ABOR if necessary.
“We have always believed that the only reason why the Arizona Board of Regents even considered initially suspending and subsequently rearranging the collection mechanism of the ASA student fee was in retaliation for ASA’s support of Proposition 204,” said Stephen Montoya of the Phoenix law firm Montoya, Jimenez & Pastor, P.A., which is representing ASA.
Despite growing opposition to the lawsuit from student leaders at all three state universities, Murray stands by it.
“My stance is where it’s been from the beginning,” Murray said. “I supported the board’s decision and continue to support the board’s decision.”
The Graduate and Professional Student Council also stood by the lawsuit. GPSC voted unanimously — with one abstention — to approve a resolution declaring its support. NAU’s Graduate Student Government also released a statement of support for ASA.
ASA directors have plans to attend the ASUA Senate meeting to urge senators to support the organization, said Jordan King, ASA director for the UA.
“It’s a lawsuit in favor of students; it’s there to protect the sanctity of the student voice; it’s there to protect the First Amendment rights of every student,” King said. “It’s our job to work on behalf of students, and this lawsuit doesn’t just affect the directors, staff, interns or the volunteers for the organizations all through campus, it affects all 140,000 students regardless of their involvement with ASA.”
King said he does not anticipate the resolution’s passing. Bilby said he would not comment on which way senators were siding on the resolution because he did not want to make a decision before the senate meeting.
“I would hope that other senators see what myself and senator Hanna see in this litigation,” Bilby said. “We don’t want to make this an issue about the validity of ASA; we want to make this an issue of the validity of the lawsuit and the use of student fees.”