The ASUC and GA need to make peace

CAMPUS ISSUES: Student leaders need to set aside the squabbles and solve some problems

Alexander Hong/Staff

Graduate students want out. They want out of a student government system centered around the undergraduate experience. They want out of an ASUC that has proved difficult to work with and slow to address their financial and academic concerns. They want out now.

The Graduate Assembly, or GA, part of the ASUC since 1969, is considering becoming independent. The long list of the assembly’s grievances involves everything from underrepresentation to underfunding to lack of transparency. But though the assembly is justified, UC Berkeley students as a whole benefit from being represented by one united government body.

In response to these concerns, on Feb. 15, ASUC senators and executives presented the assembly with a proposal for governance reform that would create a “federal system” in which, like the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, the two bodies would have equal authority over policy decisions, creating a structural form of checks and balances for each other.

But this productive first step comes weeks after it was promised and months after graduate students expressed their desire to leave in an October 2017 resolution. ASUC President Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris explained that the ASUC’s delay was warranted, saying that undergraduate ASUC officials in elected positions needed time to talk to stakeholders and make sure the elected officials were all on the same page.

It makes sense — student officials should make sure they understand every facet of a decision before making one, especially regarding complicated governance matters that have long-term implications. But this issue goes to the heart of graduate students’ concerns: Many graduate students get involved in student government and serve as executives or committee members for years, while undergraduates come and go every few semesters, struggling to pass on institutional knowledge.

As it stands, the ASUC’s proposal for governance reform needs work. Its vague commitment to a federal system doesn’t exactly specify how, for example, representatives from each body will collaborate to dole out the ASUC’s $2 million funding allocation budget and divvy up campus spaces.

Even if the proposal were up to snuff, ASUC senators and executives cannot hope to regain the GA’s trust without seriously addressing their lackluster track record of educating the next generation of undergraduate student leaders. (For an issue of this much importance, students should keep a close eye on what ASUC candidates have to say as election season ramps up.)

Some members of the GA are still open to reconciliation with the ASUC — even this vague proposal has convinced some assembly members to reconsider the split. But many more in the assembly are not swayed by this honest, though incomplete, effort at compromise. GA delegate Adam Orford said at the most recent GA meeting that the ASUC’s plan remains uncertain and that separation is a more viable, immediate solution. That kind of absolutism does more harm than good, especially if the two government bodies ultimately split and have to work separately to advocate for their interests to administrators.

Everyone benefits from a student government that equitably and evenly represents their interests and concerns. It’s time the ASUC and Graduate Assembly put to bed their differences and form a more united body for the sake of all UC Berkeley students — graduates and undergraduates alike.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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  • Nepsfali

    Re: Adam Orford’s comment, formal separation should require a campus-wide vote too. I would be shocked if it doesn’t. It is deeply undemocratic if it doesn’t. GA delegates and GA execs are not directly elected in well-monitored elections like the ASUC is, and should not unilaterally make a huge decision like this without a ratification vote by graduate students at large, and all students at large. Former graduate students like myself and future students who you affect are already excluded from a voice in this unilateral decision, but there is even less justification for excluding other current students from a referendum vote on a fundamental restructuring of student government that would strip graduate students of their right to vote in ASUC elections.

  • Adam Orford

    Thanks for your coverage of these important issues, I’ve appreciated the Daily Cal’s objective look at this topic.

    In the article linked in this editorial, your reporter quoted me as saying that the “ASUC’s [federation] plan is uncertain and that separation is a more viable, immediate solution,” and the editorial board here characterized this as harmful absolutism. The Daily Cal’s reporter did not reach out to me, nor did the editorial board, before putting words to my name, or characterizing them.

    What I said was that the ASUC’s proposed federal solution would require lengthy discussions to rewrite the ASUC Constitution, and a campus-wide vote to ratify those proposed amendments – major administrative hurdles that carry significant costs and uncertainties for the GA. On the other hand, formally separating now will resolve many of the GA’s concerns while leaving the door open to continue to work in solidarity with the ASUC going forward. I propose that critical weighing of the risks and opportunities of various alternatives does not do harm, and is not absolutism.

    Thanks very much,

    -Adam Orford

  • hoapres

    You have a bigger issue being the focus of Berkeley. I think Berkeley should get out of the undergraduate education business and focus on graduate students.

    Now that sounds cruel but it looks like the best economic solution to the ever growing student body population.

    The money and brains isn’t in undergraduate education.

  • That Guy

    Graduates are much more focused on what’s important to them. Undergrads get into all sorts of stupid things like demanding that every campus have abortions onsite without demonstrating that there is a lack of access now.