A new bill brought forth to the Associated Students Senate, reflecting concerns pertaining to a lack of focus in the Office of the Student Advocate General, calls for a separate unit to handle individual casework for students by the 2015-2016 school year.
The bill is backed by second-year history of public policy major and Off-Campus Senator Izeah Garcia, and calls to “Re-envision the Office of the Student Advocate General.” It aims to facilitate the OSA focusing on advocating more broadly for student rights, rather than placing primary importance on the individual casework for students that the SAG currently does. The bill was created earlier this year and was first presented to the Senate last Wednesday.
The bill details the function of the new A.S. Campus Student Advocacy Unit to “provide free and confidential peer support, advice, and assistance to any student, student organization, or student group involved in a dispute with any entity within the University community.”
Garcia said the idea for the bill arose when fourth-year sociology and psychology major and A.S. President Ali Guthy expressed concerns about the structure and operation regarding the OSA.
“The concern regarding the current structure and operation of the office was ultimately this: if the Student Advocate General is meant to advocate for the entire student body as a whole, how can the elected individual, properly advocate for the rights of the whole student body when only dealing with on-campus issues such as plagiarism and dormitory write-ups?” Garcia said in an email.
Guthy said that while the OSA conducts specific casework for individual students who encounter disciplinary problems on campus, there could be a better way to serve all students.
“This type of individualized service is not offered by any other elected executive officer or their staff, considering there are alternative structures within the association that serve to facilitate this need,” Guthy said in an email. “As executives, I believe it is the responsibility of our offices and ourselves to advocate for all UCSB students as opposed to assisting with individual cases because we are elected by the entire student body.”
Second-year CC] literature major, SAG candidate and current OSA outreach coordinator Ethan Reul said that without casework, the OSA would operate like an “umbrella” for other advocacy groups and would be saddled with additional responsibilities.
“The SAG would then be responsible for the oversight and management of all these advocacy groups as well as kind of advocating on a more university-wide level as opposed to just the on-campus issues that the OSA currently deals with,” Reul said.
Guthy also said this new CSA unit would settle in with other advocacy units on campus and broaden the spectrum of student support, which already includes the Legal Resource Center and the Isla Vista Tenants Union.
“The new unit this bill seeks to create, Campus Student Advocacy (CSA), will fit perfectly within this structure as the CSA would conduct casework to assist students who receive on-campus violations,” Guthy said in an email. “The formation of the CSA would create a holistic approach and structure for advocacy in associated students, as the ‘Advocacy Units’ would now address housing issues, off-campus issues, and on-campus issues.”
According to Guthy, this bill would better serve students because it would provide a more cohesive relationship among groups on campus striving to help students.
“For me, the biggest reason is that this bill proposes a new model that will facilitate a more positive, synchronized relationship between the SAG and now multiple advocacy groups, specializing in different aspects of student rights,” Guthy said in an email.
Fourth-year CCS literature major and former SAG Bailey Loverin said the new bill could take the OSA “five steps backwards” from when it was previously restructured.
“The new unit will not have the administrative clout of the OSA under the SAG, the SAG will be reduced to a figurehead position, confidentiality could be seriously compromised, you can’t guarantee non-partisan chairs so students could feel unsafe going to the unit, you can’t force them to attend office hours and meetings, the list goes on,” Loverin said in an email.
Reul said Guthy had initially brought the bill to the OSA, but after the OSA decided not to split the office, Guthy went ahead and presented the bill to the senate. While there was some debate between the two, it ultimately met with compromise.
“Ali went ahead and decided that she wanted to present it to senate anyway. Technically, it was a professional courtesy that she brought it to us; she did not need to,” Reul said. “However, because she did, we were kind of put off by the fact that she went ahead and did it anyway. So we kind of got into a bit of a heated argument with her and we came to the compromise of postponing, rather than completely eliminating or going through with the bill.”
Reul said he would support the bill if it were more closely examined and revised, particularly after a new SAG is elected.
“We are hoping that when we do have a Student Advocate General, [they] work more closely with Ali on the creation of this bill so that way when it finally does go through, it’s in the best interest of Associated Students and the student body as a whole,” Reul said.
A.S. Attorney General Hector Contreras said the bill in its current form could be deemed unconstitutional according to the A.S. Legal Code and that it would be best to wait until a new SAG is elected before going forward with the bill.
“If the bill were to be passed as it is now, under my interpretation it would be unconstitutional because it is preventing the Student Advocate General from providing oversight and direction to their office as there is no current elected SAG,” Contreras said in an email.