The Associated Students of the University of Arizona are a failure and the justices of the ASUA Supreme Court have lost all credibility. More than ever, UA needs strong, diverse student voices at the table when decisions are made. ASUA has shown itself incapable of that task. UA needs a reset.
I am not new to writing about dysfunction in student government. I covered ASUA and the Graduate and Professional Student Council for the Daily Wildcat for four years before graduating in 2020. Today, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the decline of ASUA, at a time when student voices are most needed and most in peril of falling on deaf ears.
The prelude: ASUA plants the seeds of illegitimacy
ASUA has consistently struggled to generate student interest and election turnout. After a particularly egregious year of outreach, the ASUA senate was left with a number of vacancies, leaving thousands of students without representation for the 2016-2017 school year.
While ASUA rushed to hold an April special election to fill the seats uncontested during their regular election, then Executive Vice President Evan Hastings pointed the Daily Wildcat to a provision in ASUA’s bylaws that held the seeds for a more expedient, but also illegitimate, solution to the problem.
Hastings told the Daily Wildcat at the time that if those senate vacancies remained unfilled after the special election “the president will have the responsibility of appointing senators.”
Even after the April special election failed to fill the 2016-2017 senate, ASUA did not take the bait. They hosted a second special election in November 2016.
Two years later, a very different story played out.
In 2018, ASUA once again found itself with senate vacancies. Instead of fulfilling their duties and doing the hard work of letting UA students choose the senators meant to represent them, they opted to appoint their friends or whoever else would apply after a hasty search (the current stipend for ASUA senators is $1,250).
After this round of appointments, ASUA added a new provision in its elections code giving it the power to fill any vacancies by appointment without a special election.
ASUA calls itself a student government. I call it a club. ASUA cannot claim to represent the students of UA if they have made your voices and your votes irrelevant.
The belief by ASUA senators that ASUA has no responsibility to UA voters became even more palpable in the 2021-2022 school year.
The fall: ASUA ditches 2021 Constitution in secret, holds rushed and illegitimate election
In 2019, ASUA reached a new low. When students went to vote for their student body president and two vice presidents, they were faced with only one candidate each. There were no surprises in that election – ASUA canceled its primary election, a senate seat remained vacant and many students' votes left little impact.
This failure of outreach to the student body was punctuated by harsh, consistent criticism of ASUA for its lack of diversity and poor engagement with UA’s minority and marginalized students during a forum for UA’s cultural centers.
Even amidst promises of increased transparency and outreach, ASUA defaulted to its new favorite problem-solving tool: appointments.
In May of 2021, a new voter-approved ASUA constitution went into effect. It created a House of Representatives composed of members appointed from 29 campus organizations or student clubs from African American Student Affairs to the Transfer Student Center.
If you have not heard about the House of Representatives, I would not be surprised. The 2021-2022 senate, which had the most appointed members to date, one-third of the total senate, chose to completely ignore the new 2021 constitution.
Instead, they placed the 2017 constitution on their website and failed to implement the new House of Representatives' diversity initiative. To add even more fire to the calls of illegitimacy, ASUA ignored the 2021 constitution's public posting requirements for constitutional amendments as they rushed to pass a new 2022 constitution altering those very amendment requirements and eliminating the House of Representatives altogether.
In these actions, we see the consequences of a lack of accountability and a penchant to appoint your own members in student government — the death of transparency.
As the Daily Wildcat has reported this past year, ASUA has been plagued by absent senators.
Over the course of the 2021-2022 school year, there was only one senate meeting with all senators in attendance and five senators, one-third of the senate, had missed more than a quarter of the senate’s meetings.
Following questions from the Daily Wildcat about excused and unexcused senate absences, the senate voted to impeach Louise Lalescu, senator for the College of Science, for exceeding five unexcused absences on March 16.
ASUA’s Supreme Court upheld this conviction, formalizing Lalescu’s departure. Yet, the ASUA Supreme Court overlooked ASUA’s other failures, hiding right under the surface.
Despite questions from the Daily Wildcat, ASUA consistently failed to publicly post its meeting agendas 24 hours prior to senate meetings or release meeting minutes following a vote of approval by the senate.
While the ASUA Supreme Court acknowledged that a senator can only be impeached for unexcused absences from “official weekly meetings that have been posted,” they fail to address the fact that four of the five meetings for which Lalescu had unexcused absences were not adequately posted — a clear violation of ASUA’s bylaws and the spirit of transparency ASUA’s leaders campaigned on.
In the coming year, I expect ASUA will amend this policy, as they did once they fell afoul of their special elections policy. If they do so, I doubt UA students will notice, because ASUA’s record lack of transparency has coincided with another year of disastrous outreach.
The aftermath: ASUA’s tailspin continues into this year
For just the second time in recent memory, UA students had no choice who their next student body president or two vice presidents would be. In fact, the majority of UA’s 30,000 plus undergraduates did not vote in a single competitive student government race.
ASUA’s president Patrick Robles, elected with approximately 1% of the student body vote, will oversee a senate with multiple vacancies, the implementation of yet another new constitution and the spending of a total budget exceeding $600,000 — collected from your student tuition and fees.
If history continues, Robles’s campaign promise to increase ASUA visibility, outreach and transparency will never come to fruition and he will oversee the continued decline of ASUA’s credibility.
The future: Your student voice is needed
ASUA’s failure to effectively connect with the students they serve could not come at a worse time.
During my tenure at the Daily Wildcat, I wrote about the hidden and quickly rising costs of attending UA, something that has only accelerated since I graduated.
I wrote about the rapid expansion of differential tuition and program fees. I covered the introduction of a mandatory meal plan for Honors College students that presaged a move by the UA to expand the program to all students. I watched as the Arizona Board of Regents voted to raise UA students' tuition and introduce new mandatory fees just after prohibiting students from raising their objections at a public meeting in the Student Union Memorial Center.
During my time at UA, I did see effective campus leaders in ASUA. Former President Michael Finnegan traveled to the Arizona capitol in 2017 to voice his ardent support for a legislative bill that would cap in-state [tuition] at UA, standing in direct opposition to university lobbyists. Former senator Matthew Rein stood up to ABOR’s prohibition on student criticism of tuition and fee increases by railing against outrageous “fruition and bees." Rein and Finnegan, sadly, are the exceptions and not the rule for ASUA.
UA students need a change. You cannot count on an appointed or uncontested group of senators who fail to seek out or raise student concerns to represent your voice and protect you.
When you see something wrong at UA, go to Old Main and make noise.
When ASUA has the ear of UA President Dr. Robert Robbins or is handed a seat on an important decision-making body but fails to raise up students’ voices, go to the Student Union Memorial Center and make noise.
As UA students, you have a lot of power and a lot to fight for on campus. Be loud! You unfortunately cannot count on others doing it for you.
– Randall Eck, University of Arizona ‘20
Former Daily Wildcat senior news reporter and Special Editions Editor
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