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ASSU leaders discuss student influence


Recently elected ASSU President Robbie Zimbroff ‘12 said that he believes the 2012-2013 ASSU representatives should adopt an approach that is more cooperative and less politicized than that of previous representatives when interacting with University administrators.

“Honesty and openness is a good policy,” Zimbroff said. “I don’t think that hiding your cards, or trying to be overly political, is a function of student government.”

“I think student government is something different than politics,” Zimbroff added. “You’ve got to understand [that] there are ways to make solutions mutually beneficial or mutually productive rather than distributive.”

This contention was challenged, however, by former ASSU Executive Michael Cruz ‘12, who said that while student representatives generally preserve a cooperative relationship with the University, sometimes senators and members of the Graduate Student Council should adopt a more adversarial approach.

“It’s actually, in many times, more beneficial to utilize the frame of an adversarial role as opposed to a cooperative one…because of the constrained nature of working as a Senator or as a member of the [GSC],” Cruz said. “Most of your change that can be implemented is through the legislature, and legislation, especially when presenting an opinion, is naturally adversarial.”

Shahryar Abbasi, external affairs vice president of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), endorsed the adversarial process of debate and said that at Berkeley, partially due to its culture of activism, students have extensive influence on almost every administrative decision.

“On no decision do we agree 100 percent,” Abbasi said of the ASUC’s response to University policies. “We critically think through everything, and if there is too much agreement, there is probably something wrong.”

ASUC functions as an independent 501(c)(3) corporation, receiving no funding from the University, and lobbies policy makers on both internal and external affairs, according to Abbasi and the ASUC’s current and past advocacy agendas.

Moreover, students serve on advisory committees to every major administrative or policy-making body, and Abbasi said that the University chancellor very rarely disregards the students’ advisory opinions.

“The way the culture is [at Berkley] is that you never say no,” he said. “The University will try to take this power-wheedling stance sometimes, and we just don’t accept it. It’s very much a push-back relationship.”

“It’s an amazing association, and never before have I seen this much regard for student opinion,” Abbasid added. “The students are so involved in the decision-making. When I’ve spoken to my colleagues at other institutions, I would say it is unparalleled.”

The ASSU, with a mission to “advocate[s] on behalf of Stanford students on issues such as cost of living, diversity, student life and student activities space,” garners authority through its constitution, a contractual agreement between the University, the Board of Trustees, and the student body (the Associated Students of Stanford University, of which all students are members). Additionally, it distributes annually between $2 and $3 million of independent funding from its endowment and student fees to student activities, according to Cruz.

The ASSU also theoretically has jurisdiction over the Office of Judicial Affairs (OJA), which oversees all judicial procedure on campus. It is ostensibly required that the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council (GSC), in addition to the President of the University, approve any amendment made to the Judicial Charter before it can go into effect.

However, the ASSU constitution explicitly states that “nothing in this Charter limits or contravenes the authority of the President…to promulgate and enforce regulations governing student conduct,” and that, “in extraordinary circumstances,” he or she may alter judicial procedure without input or consent from the Senate or GSC.

While Zimbroff expressed confidence that the administration and the student body generally want the same things, Cruz said that student advisors often disagree with University officials, particularly in areas such as investment responsibility, where Trustees oversee the investment and management of endowment securities.

Cruz said that he believes that the influence of student voice is vested predominately in the student appointments made by the Nominations Committee to over 40 University committees every year, similar to the structure of student input at Berkeley. Cruz said, however, that because of the Nomination Commission’s gradual loss of prestige and its disconnect from the ASSU representative bodies, the student body’s voice has been weakened.

“The role of sitting as a member of the Nominations Commission is not one that is particularly lauded on this campus, and thereby the accessibility metrics between the elected bodies of the association — and thereby the students — and the Nominations Commission tends to be strained,” he explained. “Linking it more directly to students and more directly to elected student representatives greatly improves the ability of students to feel like they’re having a say in the governance of the University.”

Cruz said that he feels these problems would have been alleviated by the establishment of the centralized Nominations Commission outlined in a revised constitution proposed at the end of winter quarter by the Governing Documents Commission (GDC), which was chaired by Cruz and ASSU Parliamentarian Alex Kindel ‘14 and chartered last year by the 13th Undergraduate Senate.

Due to strong opposition from Graduate Student Council members and ASSU alumni, however, the drafted ASSU constitution was not placed on the spring ballot in time for the student body to approve its passage, despite support from most current ASSU representatives.

“The University’s relationship with students and student representation would greatly improve,” Cruz said of the aimed consequences of a new constitution. “As it stands…each of the Nominations Commissions that I’ve had the privilege to oversee has faced significant hurtles in filling all of the nominated positions…There would have been mandated greater oversight over these nominees, thereby ensuring that student input is more directly linked toward what nominees are saying or voting on.”

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