The ASUC is often criticized for failing to serve the students it exists to represent. Yet few times in recent memory has UC Berkeley’s student government taken action that so clearly delegitimizes the democratic ideals it purports to exemplify.
On Wednesday evening, the ASUC Senate voted to uphold an executive order issued by President Vishalli Loomba that invalidated the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative midway through the campus election. This proposed student fee on the ballot would charge $2 per semester to support The Daily Californian. Loomba and the senate cited concerns for what an agreement between the university and an independent business like the Daily Cal would mean for the ASUC’s autonomy and input when it comes to managing fee money from students. Those worries are completely understandable.
However, in killing the initiative to affect factors outside of the ASUC’s control, the president and senators greatly overstepped the bounds of their power.
This Senior Editorial Board does not deny its inherent interest in the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative’s success. The Daily Cal crafted the referendum and would surely benefit from its passage. But as Loomba herself iterated — along with Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab, External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman and various senators — this issue is not about the Daily Cal.
If this board were to remain silent on the ramifications of Loomba’s executive order and the senate’s vote upholding her decision, it would be remiss in its tradition of commenting on important challenges facing our community. Ultimately, this editorial only represents the collective opinion of the editors who make up the board and has no bearing on the newspaper’s official stance or policy.
By nullifying any referendum fairly and correctly placed on the ASUC ballot, leaders in our student government brought this campus’s entire electoral process into question. Every student fee referendum must be approved for vote through mechanisms outlined in the ASUC’s bylaws and by the UC Office of the President. The struck-down initiative met all required criteria.
The fact of the matter is that referendums are, year after year, put up for a vote by students without finalized implementation details. No ASUC power exists to govern negotiations following the yearly campus election. Thus seeking to do so through executive order was both wrong and morally repugnant.
Loomba should not be criticized for the questions she raised on the senate floor. Indeed, every student should think about the ASUC’s relationship with campus and university administrations and the uncertainty that this initiative brought into our campus discourse. But there are other means by which the concerns outlined in the president’s order can be addressed, like the ASUC’s own Judicial Council — which was an avenue pursued simultaneously with the executive order — and in the court of law.
No vote should be influenced or nullified through the power of executive order, a process that exists to address scenarios in which the ASUC could not function in the absence of immediate action. The threat of lawsuit may scare our student government and campus administrators, but it does not present a crisis so urgent as to justify this use of executive force.
Moreover, the senate’s choice to confirm Loomba’s order revealed its failure to critically examine a very real challenge to democracy from a standpoint grounded in the ASUC’s role. The bipartisan support for Loomba’s directive reveals that, even in the midst of a contentious election season, ASUC senators can rise above student party politics. But make no mistake: Their decision was motivated by student-university politics, as was Loomba’s choice in the first place. By framing the senate debate as a matter of asserting student government independence from university administrators, our student leaders were grossly disingenuous in their decision.
In her remarks to the senate, Loomba said, “This process is wrong.” Yes, the procedure by which fee referendums proceed after students vote is untransparent. And in spite of its unabashed wrongness, the ASUC’s collective willingness to study the myriad issues brought forth by Loomba’s use of executive order is commendable. Nonetheless, systemic changes ought to be made only after a flawed but legal process is complete, not when rampant speculation is the only evil that assails our student body. By invalidating this initiative, the ASUC unjustly interfered with a completely fair election, and there is no greater affront to democracy.
Tomer Ovadia, The Daily Californian’s Editor in Chief and President, recused himself from discussions to formulate this editorial due to his significant involvement and continued role in the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative.