As your Associated Students president, it is my duty and honor, among a myriad of other responsibilities, to serve as the liaison between my undergraduate student peers and our formal association. In practice, this is an honor I share with the paper you are now reading. I commend what I sincerely hope is a good-faith effort on the part of this paper to provide a healthy dose of transparency to our association. Offering a clear and holistic picture of what is happening with our student government is imperative to the sense of ownership that students should have over A.S. and it should also keep accountable to this basic mission those of us who have been elected, appointed or hired to serve our undergraduates. Transparency and accountability are two values that I not only campaigned upon this past spring, but that I hold very dear to my service in this office.
To this end, the recent coverage of A.S. has lacked an inside perspective aside from a handful of quotes that could never really paint a complete picture. This in turn, either intentionally or collaterally, has proven to target individuals in the public crosshairs without the benefit of their full story. My hope is simply to provide further clarification of issues that I encourage students to critically analyze and investigate of their own accord.
Beginning with the front page of the Oct. 5, 2011, issue of the Daily Nexus, the emboldened headline “A.S. Faces Impending Legal Storm” next to an ominous sculpture of the acronym “A.S.” crumbling is more than a tad dramatic and potentially misleading.
The latter is true especially when placed adjacent to the article regarding the personal legal matters of a former Legislative Council representative. Believe what you will about that particular situation, but to think that it in any way brings about a “legal storm” upon our association is entirely untrue, plain and simple. If you are an undergraduate student who has paid your student fees, you are a member of A.S. and can enjoy all of our representation and programming including, but not limited to, A.S. Program Board concerts and representation by the Isla Vista Tenants Union. To say that if you or your fellow undergraduate has run into legal trouble, we as a student body are about to brave the risky seas of any “legal storm” exaggerates the implications of this individual’s personal life. That student will hopefully receive justice in the court of law and out of the court of public opinion. Though while serving as a representative he would absolutely have to face the latter, it has been almost five months since he resigned from office. He is no more a part of A.S. than the authors of these reports.
The second matter is the three-part saga regarding an internal conflict in the association that involved student and permanent staff members. For everyone’s clarification, staff members (both student and career) are distinguished from students like me because they receive a salary or wage for the work completed, are officially employed by the UC Regents via the University (much like any other University-affiliated position) and are subject and entitled to certain rights and policies in that capacity. There are over 300 students and about 28 permanent staff members working to empower students and provide our numerous student services (including our Recycling Services Program, A.S. Publications, the Ticket Office, Emergency Loan Programs and the A.S. Food Bank just to name a few). The reality is this: We could not function without this remarkably dedicated team. The headline “A.S. Council Clashes With Permanent Staff” — on page three of the Daily Nexus Oct. 7, 2011, edition — inappropriately generalizes the permanent staff team that works pretty thanklessly for students every day. They are far from being paid anything most would consider exorbitant (Don’t believe me? Take a trip to sacbee.com/statepay, cheers to transparency!). Staff members do their jobs because they believe in the genuine power of student service and student representation. While it’s easy for involved students to see this daily, the characterization and large scale first impressions promulgated by this headline, in my opinion, need some context.
This is not to say there has been no disagreement between student staff and permanent staff. In fact, I’m sure there has been plenty of disagreement between these groups as well as staff and other appointed and/or elected members of Associated Students and certainly within this latter group itself. Conflict is a reality of any working environment. The true distinction of a cohesive and productive organization is the ability to transcend the conflict and move toward resolution.
This was a process in which we have been fully engaged. We have been working through every available avenue (including, but not limited to, mediation, discussion, etc.) with the presence of all parties involved to see this situation through to a solution for everyone. A newsworthy story might have appropriately surfaced had we exhausted all these channels to an egregious outcome, but we have yet to reach that point.
My concern is that an exposé that has spanned four articles and seven pages of the last three issues of this publication has cast out the day-to-day benefits, services and work of the vast majority of our students and staff as well as other more newsworthy stories happening on campus and in our community.
My hope is that this story has sparked within students a desire to demand a level of transparency and accountability consistent with a student government. There’s no better way to do this than becoming involved and taking ownership of our association. You can easily do this by visiting the A.S. Main Office located adjacent to the MultiCultural Center and the UCen (inside the building where you pick up your readers and tickets). As always, please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like further clarification on anything I’ve discussed or if you have any questions, comments or concerns with the state of our association.
Harrison Weber is a fourth-year political science major and the UCSB Associated Students President.