ASUC President issues executive order invalidating Daily Cal fee referendum

V.O.I.C.E. Initiative violates UC policy, and a solution could affect the Daily Cal's independence, Loomba says

Vishalli Loomba speaks to the Berkeley City Council to protest the changes to the second response protocol.
Andrew Kuo/Staff
Vishalli Loomba speaks to the Berkeley City Council to protest the changes to the second response protocol.

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ASUC President Vishalli Loomba issued an executive order early Wednesday morning invalidating an initiative on the 2012 ASUC general election ballot that asks students to support The Daily Californian.

Loomba’s order comes just as the second of three voting days for the election begins. In the order, she cites a UC policy which states that the student referendum process shall not be used to establish a new fee for the purpose of supporting a non-university organization.

This policy applies to the Daily Cal, Loomba said in the order, because it is an independent organization that does not receive funding from the university. Rather, the Daily Cal pays rent for its office space in Eshleman Hall and has an agreement to distribute  its papers on campus.

The V.O.I.C.E. Initiative will remain on the ballot but will be voided, according to the order.

The initiative asks students if they will pay $2 per semester to help sustain the Daily Cal and allow it to continue enhancing its online presence. Daily Cal student leaders estimate that the initiative would generate about $93,800 annually and that without the funds, the newspaper could very likely lose additional days of print publication, among other cuts.

According to Daily Cal Editor in Chief and President Tomer Ovadia, the UC Office of the President brought up the policy to which Loomba referred when the office approved the petition language that the Daily Cal circulated to get the initiative on the ballot. But Ovadia said he thought the Daily Cal’s status as a registered student group or the drafting of a memorandum of understanding would take care of the matter.

UC Berkeley senior Andy Nevis, who opposes the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative, said that Loomba’s executive order was appropriate and that it should have been issued earlier. He said the university’s policy is “fairly clear.”

“I think that she is in solid footing in terms of implementing an executive order,” he said, adding that the order would at least “let the student body know that this is an issue.”

Loomba also said in her order that a memorandum of understanding would have to be drafted between the Daily Cal and the campus in order for the Daily Cal to receive funding through a campus fee referendum. She said that both campus officials and officials from the UC president’s office have said that such a memorandum could impact the Daily Cal’s independence and financial oversight.

Concerns about independence stemming from a memorandum of understanding were not raised in any prior discussions with campus and university officials, according to Ovadia.

The order also states that the campus whistleblower program received letters saying that due to the Daily Cal’s status as an independent organization, the newspaper cannot receive mandatory student fees if students do not have oversight over its operations.

“It is the role of the ASUC student leadership to ensure that students are able to vote in a transparent and fair election and are ensured full and accurate information in order to make informed decisions,” Loomba’s order states.

The ASUC Constitution gives the president power to issue through an executive order “the taking of actions which are urgent and necessary to maintain the functioning” of the ASUC until the ASUC Senate can meet again. While Loomba’s word is likely to be final, the senate could vote to overturn her executive order, according to the ASUC Constitution. The senate’s next meeting is Wednesday night.

This is Loomba’s fourth executive order since becoming ASUC president. Her last order was issued in August and granted ASUC sponsorship to a student group.

An executive order has not been used to void a ballot initiative in at least the last three years. ASUC Attorney General Deepti Rajendran said there appears to be no precedent in recent memory for Loomba’s actions.

“This is kind of a confusing situation,” Rajendran said. “It hasn’t been done recently.”

In an email addressed to the senate regarding this executive order, Loomba said she hopes that “further action on this matter” will be discussed by the senate at its meeting Wednesday and by the ASUC Judicial Council.

“I feel strongly that as the elected representatives of the student body, we must do our due diligence to ensure that students have every opportunity to get clear and 100% transparent information when making choices regarding student fees and referenda,” Loomba said in the email. “It is unfortunate that we are in this situation, but it is of utmost importance that we promote an informed student vote.”

SQUELCH! senator and presidential candidate Noah Ickowitz said the senate will need to look into the situation.

“The senate needs to closely examine whether or not an executive order was appropriate,” Ickowitz said. “I think a lot of issues that need to be taken into account are the timing and the content of the executive order and whether or not it is constitutional.”

Read Loomba’s executive order below.

Staff writer Chloe Hunt contributed to this report.

J.D. Morris is the university news editor.