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ASUC Auxiliary realignment is disrespectful of student voice

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MAY 23, 2012

The ASUC is a unique student government with a rich 125-year history of being a vehicle for student agency and power at UC Berkeley. It is an organization that during CalSO is often touted as being an “autonomous” student government. Well, the reality is that this notion of “autonomy” is mostly false, and since 1998, the ASUC has not been able to control its own buildings, employees or businesses directly. Management is done through the ASUC Auxiliary, a department within the campus bureaucracy that operates through “shared governance” with the administration and Store Operations Board.

This notion of “shared governance” rests first and foremost on mutual respect and joint decision making, and this tenet has been breached by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Harry Le Grande and other senior level administrators throughout the ASUC Auxiliary realignment from Business and Administration to Student Affairs. This is highlighted by Le Grande’s unilateral decision to place the ASUC Auxiliary director’s reporting line under the dean of students, rather than the vice chancellor, despite a clear directive from a committee that he charged. I’ll get to why this matters so much later.

Last summer, after being on campus for less than a year, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance John Wilton announced that the ASUC Auxiliary would be moved from Business and Administration to the Division of Student Affairs under Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard. Every single elected official (all parties) in the ASUC objected to this unilateral move during the summer, and the senate responded with a joint resolution sponsored by the 2010-11 and 2011-12 senate classes opposing the realignment. We especially objected to the reporting line under the dean of students, who also oversees the student conduct process.

Nevertheless the administration “realigned” the Auxiliary. This in itself was a bad faith effort by the administration over the ASUC’s right to self-determination that left a sour taste in the mouths of all those students tasked with trying to civilly work with a bureaucracy that lacks accountability and respect for the Associated Students.

However, in late summer, a compromise was reached between Le Grande and the ASUC and Graduate Assembly presidents to charge a committee called the Transition Planning Team consisting of administrators, staff and students. The TPT met over the course of the 2011-12 academic year and produced a report recommending a dramatic transformation of the ASUC Auxiliary into a more professionalized unit that would be more financially sustainable and increase the power of student voice at Cal. In the process, it sought to streamline processes for student groups to make it easier to function on this campus.

For those in the ASUC, a key part of the committee’s report was to put the ASUC Auxiliary executive director’s reporting line (who reports to whom) to Le Grande himself. This is a common practice at many other college student governments and works to increase access and student voice on their campuses. Berkeley students deserve nothing less than having our student government’s reporting line to a vice chancellor level. At its last meeting, the senate passed “A Bill in Consideration of the Transition Planning Team Report”  that supported the TPT report and specifically said that the reporting line is key to the success of the “transition.” No elected official who I know of supports the executive director reporting to the dean of students. However, Le Grande has responded by saying this is exactly what he intends to do.

From my perspective, under the dean of students is the wrong place for the ASUC Auxiliary in the short and long term. In the short-term, I have seen Poullard as micromanaging ASUC affairs and holding a paternalistic attitude toward the ASUC. While I respect Poullard as an inspiring individual and skilled administrator who has done countless positive things for students on this campus, I am completely opposed to the ASUC Auxiliary being under his division coupled with the merger of the ASUC Office of Student Affairs and the Campus Life and Leadership into one unit. This is a recipe for disaster to the vestige of “autonomy” that the ASUC has. The ASUC needs to be able to make its own decisions, be permitted to make mistakes and not have a micromanaging administrator usurping student agency over our own organization!

The response to the TPT report by Le Grande is the the last straw for me to call “foul” over this entire process. It seems to me that the TPT committee was all along just a show while Le Grande had predetermined what he would do with the reporting line. While he has accepted most of the TPT report, the executive director reporting line is the critical element that has the most effect on the power of the ASUC in years to come. This is the long-term issue once Le Grande and Poullard leave their roles — the ASUC will still be in a marginalized and unfitting position within the Division of Student Affairs.

The administration has shown time and again it is a “partner” that acts in bad faith with respect to notions of shared governance. While the TPT report was a recommendation to Le Grande, the delicate student-administrator alliance created on the TPT committee should not have been vetoed with respect to the executive director reporting line. I have observed such unilateral decisions during the Lower Sproul redevelopment process (when the administration divided $30 million off the project) and throughout the Auxiliary realignment.

If I were president, I would rally the support of ASUC alumni to pressure an end to being pushed around and disrespected. I would use all the resources at my disposal to ensure that this realignment does not proceed unilaterally by an administration that thinks it knows what is best for students and our organization.

To step back and look at the framework of this realignment, we see that the B.E.A.R.S Initiative has changed the game. The $220 million project redefined the student-administrator relationship as “business partners.” The Auxiliary was neglected for many years until the ASUC passed the B.E.A.R.S Initiative and it suddenly became relevant. Now is the time for the power struggle over who controls the ASUC and thus the new and very expensive student union. This power struggle is occurring in multiple arenas on campus simultaneously. Who will control the ASUC: students or administrators?

Elliot Goldstein is an ASUC senator.

MAY 30, 2012