Three questions for the ASUC candidates

The Devil's Advocate

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To my knowledge, no ASUC candidate from a major party has said anything controversial this election season. We’ve heard a lot of nebulous rhetoric about “leading Cal to a brighter future” and “improving campus climate.” But I haven’t heard anyone from CalServe or Student Action say something a substantial number of students might reasonably disagree with.

A few examples: CalServe presidential candidate Andy Albright promises to advocate for reduced fees and “keep students safe.” Student Action presidential candidate Connor Landgraf says he will “increase the efficiency and utility of campus resources” and “ensure that the ASUC invests in students.” CalServe Senate candidate Mahana Barbadillo will “improve campus climate” and Student Action candidate Grace Chen will promote “faculty and student engagement.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of these goals. We all want lower tuition, an improved campus climate (whatever that means), better resources and more engagement with faculty. But none of these issues is at all controversial.  The ASUC candidates from major parties have been utterly silent on the important things — the issues that have, in recent years, ignited the passions of the student body.

ASUC elections will always have the elements of a popularity contest. Many people vote for a certain candidate because friends tell them to, or because the candidate is in their fraternity, or because the candidate looks friendly. But if candidates were to state their positions on just a few tough issues, our elections could be far more substantive.

I’ve come up with a few questions the ASUC candidates must address if students are to actually distinguish one candidate from another:

(1) Divestment from Israel. In 2010, the ASUC heard hours of emotional and sometimes caustic debate on whether it should recommend that UC Berkeley divest its endowment funds from some companies that supply weapons to the Israeli military. The episode generated national media attention and probably the most heated controversy the campus has seen in years. It ultimately passed the Senate but was vetoed by President Will Smelko.

It’s very possible that next year’s student government will be faced with the divestment question. What are the candidates’ positions?

(2) Affirmative action. In September of this academic year, the ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill endorsing SB 185, which would have authorized the University of California to consider race in its admissions process. It also allocated funds for students in favor of affirmative action to protest outside the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco as the court heard arguments about the constitutionality of California’s affirmative action ban.

Despite the current ASUC Senate’s unanimous support for race preferences in admissions, affirmative action is highly controversial on campus. What are the candidates’ positions?

(3) Speech on campus. In response to the ASUC’s support of the affirmative action bill, the Berkeley College Republicans announced its plans to hold a satirical bake sale — race-based prices for cupcakes — to express its opposition to affirmative action. The ASUC Senate called an “emergency meeting” in response to the planned bake sale. President Vishalli Loomba and other ASUC officials said that the group’s funding was in jeopardy. The ASUC ended up passing a unanimous resolution condemning the bake sale, and though the Berkeley College Republicans was not stripped of its funding, the ASUC resolution explicitly affirmed its authority to defund the group.

The issue of speech on campus emerged once again when the Black Student Union invited controversial minister Louis Farrakhan to speak on campus last month. Four out of five ASUC executives wrote an op-ed in The Daily Californian suggesting that Farrakhan should not be allowed on campus because “there is a hard line between protecting free speech and instigating divisiveness.”

Controversial speaking engagements and protests will almost certainly occur on campus next year. What are the candidates’ positions on when speech should be curtailed?

It’s unfortunate that the candidates from major parties have stuck to safe, vague platforms instead of addressing anything controversial. But elections aren’t over yet. I urge CalServe and Student Action candidates to address the substantive issues that are likely to characterize their terms in office. If they don’t, this election will be a glorified popularity contest.