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Nap Time!!!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009
The ASUC shield

Yaman has an excellent post about what the ASUC really means for students. While I disagree with some of what he calls solutions, the post is definitely worth reading.

The first myth is an exceptionally important one, one that most people don't recognize, or plug their ears and shout bland platitudes when challenged on it. The ASUC has long served as a shield, wielded by the administration to protect themselves from the student body. Having a group of students that supposedly represents the student body is amazingly convenient for the administration, because it gives them a closed institution of students they can gain power in while pretending to respond to student concerns. The absolute deference to the ASUC Auxiliary's analysis that the Senate shows at their meetings is an example of this.

For various committees, a student or two is included for appearances, though that voice can just be ignored. Having that student come from a carefully managed ASUC makes it that much easier to avoid getting a student who decides to actually do something about an issue.

Perhaps the most obvious example of how the student body isn't represented by the ASUC can be seen from the simple turnout rate, which hovers around 30%. Where does the ASUC get the idea that it can claim to "speak for students" when the vast majority of students don't recognize the ASUC as their voice? Given that students can individually voice their opinions, and can form groups to voice those opinions in a coordinated fashion, the only reason to use the ASUC to voice an opinion is to claim the voices of those who choose not to speak that opinion.

It's for this reason that I don't think Yaman's "democratization" idea is a good one, because it will continue to be the case that the vast majority of students don't use this system, so it can't claim any more legitimacy than the ASUC can. And a quick survey of various online systems will show that a small group of like-minded people will quickly dominate any such system, blocking out other voices. ("The tyranny of people with too much time on their hands")

But coming to these conclusions typically requires paying attention to the ASUC for approximately a college career. By the time folks realize how broken the system is, it's time for them to move on, and the system perpetuates itself. (The only reason I'm able to run this blog is because I've been here for two college careers)

My own personal opinion is probably much closer to the administration's. I don't trust students to make responsible decisions, so the fact that the ASUC is under the administration's thumb doesn't bother me too much, aside from when fee increase season rolls around. But there are a lot of people who don't share my view who see the ASUC as something it's not.

posted by Beetle Aurora Drake 2/04/2009 12:40:00 PM #
Comments (3)
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Beetle, I have a hard time believing you're going to disappear after the recall election now that you're posting on many more of the issues.

On the democratization point. I actually think there are ways to make this so it is less susceptible to abuse. You're right that only students that care would participate. But if you've got a student body with 30,000 people, and only 500 turn out to vote-- the numbers themselves tell you the truth of who is represented and who isn't. Furthermore, something to the effect of "This resolution passed 900-899" or "1500-10" also gives you a sense of who is really represented and who isn't. I think it's important to keep the numbers in, rather than say, "The ASUC passed ...." when it comes to evaluating the student body. All in all, though, except on constitutional matters, I think this basically makes the ASUC a real student union in that everybody can vote-- but the votes are essentially a polling system. This would be incredibly useful in facing the Administration, for example, on issues like Panda Express. Currently, it claims that it conducted focus groups which prove students want Panda Express. It would literally take one poll of the student body as a whole--which would cost $0 online-- through this democratic system to either confirm or refute the Auxiliary's claims. This would apply to any issue-- and the only people who'd be afraid of such a system are those who don't think students agree with them, or don't think they can make an argument to the student body.
These polls already exist on various issues, and are fairly universally ignored. I recall one poll asking students for their views getting a hundred or so responses, and the pollster reporting that, because of the answer to a particular question, "this poll shows that students do care about these things."

To take your Panda Express example, a small subset of the population is going to vote, and that subset will be strongly self-selected. The "average student" postulated by those who say the student body "supports" this really just doesn't mind new choices, even if they won't militantly demand them. Would they show up to vote in the same numbers? Of course not. And their voice gets lost. If I were the Auxiliary, I would point to the huge numbers of students who didn't bother to register any objection and say "The vast majority of students don't mind. Since we want money, let's go with this."

In other words, a polling system isn't really going to prove or refute any claims.
You and I begin to disagree at the point where you think the University should be managed exclusively by the Administration, while I think that students should have more oversight and control.

You're right about self-selection and all those dynamics-- but the only way to avoid that is, as you've suggested, to defer to the Auxiliary/Administration. I consider this to be inherently undemocratic because there are a few hundred of them, and several thousands of us. Why should they make all the decisions that directly impact our lives? Is it because they're older and have experience? I'm not sure that's going to cut it. Many of us will be off campus next year or the following one, in control of various institutions or on our way there; at the very least, we'll be members of a much larger democratic community, like towns, cities, countries, who knows. Eventually, "leave it to the adults" isn't going to cut it because we'll be the adults. And drawing the line at graduation seems arbitrary to me.

Besides, I think some of them make some pretty horrendous decisions. Remember the Auxiliary's idea to put plasma screens around campus that would beam advertisements at students as a way of raising money? Yeah, right-- let's leave it all to Robert Birgeneau and Nad Permaul and see the world they give us. I'm guessing it'll earn them a lot of money.
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