An email sent to members of the student body on Tuesday called for the complete replacement of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona with a new government known as the “Undergraduate Student Government of the University of Arizona.”
This email was sent by Brett Murphy, a student pursuing a B.A. in law, who transferred to the UA this year. The petition comes in the midst of ASUA election season, with primaries having just passed and general elections taking place on March 1.
Murphy had originally intended to run for student body president in order to implement changes in student government but was disqualified from the race after being told he had not completed the proper documents.
Murphy cited concerns about the lack of student participation in the primary election, with only 1,619 votes being cast in the race for student body president. For reference, there were 40,407 undergraduate students enrolled at the UA at the start of the fall semester.
“Really, we’re not an associated students of the University of Arizona because associated means to just get together in an informal environment," Murphy said. "And I believe that we’re not associated, especially in this election."
Another major issue with ASUA that Murphy referenced was a lack of communication between ASUA and the student body constituency, which resulted in little awareness among students about their government.
In the email sent out to students within the schools of Journalism and Government and Public Policy, Murphy said that “the Associated Students of the University have failed to perform in our best interests as our representatives.”
“I did an informal poll prior to my candidacy regarding what the student body knew about student government, and asked probably more than 100 students: do you know who the senator is for your school? Have they ever reached out to you? Have they ever asked you what your thoughts on issues were,” Murphy said. “And 90 percent or greater knew nothing about the student government and had not had any of their senators reach out to them. I think that's a monumental failure with reaching out to the constituency.”
Student Body President Patrick Robles countered the claims made by Murphy, calling them “baseless.”
“Coming out of the pandemic, ASUA was on a downward turn. We had essentially become irrelevant, we had no sort of practices in place to ensure that our elected student leaders were advocating for causes and issues that students cared about,” Robles said. “We’ve turned that around this year. We have student leaders in ASUA who care about the needs of students. We aim to be more accessible, we aim to fight for issues that students care about, and continue to work to make sure that we reach and meet all of our goals and values.”
As evidence of the work ASUA has been doing to serve the student body, Robles referenced ASUA’s #WhyIRide campaign, a movement to keep the Sunlink fare-free for all riders at least until the end of June, as well as ASUA’s work to extend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to students on campus.
“These are fights that I would argue are actually unprecedented when it comes to our student government because we are not just fighting for issues that are felt here on campus, we are fighting for issues that are felt throughout the community,” Robles said.
According to Murphy, the proposed UAUSG would be built upon the values of honesty, ethics, accountability and transparency. Some ways in which he hoped this new government would promote these values would be through the creation of a student government oversight committee and a greater balance of power among the three branches of government.
“The President at the ASUA really has most of the power," Murphy said. "He's the chief executive officer. He's the chief financial officer. He's the chief appointing officer. And I don't think that that’s appropriate. That goes back to my term, autocratic. So I would move more power in the legislative branch and allow them to make decisions."
Robles countered that ASUA already maintains the values that Murphy mentioned. Robles mentioned that ASUA has elections commissioners who ensure that the elections are run fairly and equitably, as well as an elections code that is posted on the ASUA website that anyone can access and an information session for all prospective candidates that laid out exactly what was expected of them.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that we could always improve our elections process here. We are actively looking at the elections code in order to make sure that it is up to par with ASUA candidates in 2023 and in the years to come,” Robles said. “We realize there is always more work to do, but I do disagree with Brett Murphy’s claims that ASUA does not have values that are honesty, ethics, accountability and transparency.”
Ryan Hicks, a student majoring in law who received the email from Murphy on Tuesday, agreed in part with Robles that while there is room for improvement, replacing ASUA with a new body may not be the most effective way to make these improvements.
“The virtues ‘honesty, ethics, accountability, and transparency,’ are already embedded in our student government, and starting a new one solely based on these virtues would be redundant, and consist of lots of red tape to cut through,” Hicks said. “There’s nothing wrong with fighting for more representation, and in fact, I think it is great when people want their voices to be heard. However, trying to separate from ASUA would do more of the opposite.”
All parties agree that there exists room for growth and that the priority of the government should be accurately and equitably representing the student body. However, some of their discrepancies in opinion arise in their proposals on how best to do this.
Despite any roadblocks he has faced in his progress with this movement, Murphy remains persistent in his effort to bring students together to challenge ASUA. He hopes to establish a presence on the UA Mall with a group of students to raise awareness about this movement and to build a stronger connection with the student body.
“You know, at a certain point, you're going to see more of a movement on campus at the Mall and I won't call it a boycott, because I don't think that's the appropriate way to handle this," Murphy said. "But I think it will be an opportunity to give those who have signed the petition the ability to come to the Mall and say, ‘hey, this is why I signed a petition, this is why I think we need a change in government. I'd like to get 10 percent of the student body, at least, you know, I'd like to get at least 3000 signatures, and I'm not going to get it all online with change.org.”
Murphy’s campaign will not stop after the ASUA elections have ended. He is looking to the future, and he hopes that his efforts will pay off for future students and maybe even his kids and grandkids.
“It will just make the experience better for the students that are coming in and I have to think about my children, who are considering going to the university and my grandchildren who will be in the university in 13 or 14 years about what type of government we have built for them, that's going to allow them equal access and not only the freedom of education but the responsibilities of a government that takes care of them,” Murphy said.
In response to this movement, Robles asked that students reflect on their own experiences with ASUA.
“The art of government can sometimes be slow, but when you have people who care about this job, like all of us here do, it makes it worthwhile and it makes it possible to achieve big things, such as fare-free transit and being able to advocate for the expansion of SNAP benefits for college students as we are doing this semester,” Robles said. “These are real issues that impact the lives of students, and I would ask our student body to look at those fights and ask yourselves if our student government is fighting for you.”
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