The agony that is the ASUC


Partial disclosure: I, Noah Ickowitz, am a former ASUC senator with the SQUELCH! party. Don’t you worry. I can still recognize the obnoxious, delusional and limiting parts of our student government. Luckily, I can also commend the fantastic parts of it. I will try to give you as much of a balance between the two as possible.

For you as readers, I will provide analysis and even more than that — new information that will blow your Cal socks right off — if you care about this stuff. The actions and absence of actions by the ASUC in and out of official meetings bring a fantastically dramatic dimension to the student government and will hopefully do the same for this column.  My stories will make you feel like Gossip Girl and The West Wing had a love child named the ASUC. The ridiculous amounts of money students spend on their election campaigns would make even Meg Whitman weep. Juiciness will be for another day, but I encourage you to read on.

Some students on campus are so enamored by Berkeley’s student government to the point where they can’t see its flaws. Opposite from these ASUC loyalists stand the rebellious individuals who believe not only that the student government does nothing, but also that it is evil incarnate. As most things go, the truth rests somewhere in between the extremes — I realize that is not rocket science.

First, to those of you who think the ASUC does nothing, I’m sorry, you’re wrong.

Senators wrote hundreds of bills last year, allocated thousands of dollars to student groups and held absurdly long weekly meetings. Former CalSERVE Senator Andy Albright worked to move more than $3 million in ASUC funds into a more “responsible” bank. Former External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman led a campaign to redistrict the entire city of Berkeley in order to increase student representation on the Berkeley City Council. Whether these moves were prudent or in line with your ideologies, there is no doubt that these actions have tangible consequences.

Now, to those of you who think that the ASUC is completely autonomous and has done only good: I’m sorry, you’re wrong, too. I’d love to believe that students still completely control the bookstore or the businesses on Lower Sproul Plaza, but that’s simply not true. A Commercial and Student Services Board exists, which does have student representatives, but administration remains prominent on the board. Soon we will either have to work to regain more control or admit that we just don’t have as much power as we think we do. I will concede that the ASUC does control the Cal Lodge,  which allows for great skiing — just what we need in times of financial crisis. My problems with the Cal Lodge will be revealed at another time, but yes, I’m sure many of you did not know it exists — which is part of the problem. The powers of the ASUC lie more in its human capital than in its financial assets.

It’s true that it was not always this way. We did at one point in time own the bookstore. But senators serve one-year terms, and rarely do they run for re-election. As you can imagine, this turnover rate prompts fresh leadership year after year with little to no governing experience behind most senators. After all, we did once get bailed out by the university, which led to the creation of the current Commercial and Student Services board system.

Life away from the ASUC can sometimes feel like breathing without air, but stepping back from the senate has given me insight that I didn’t always have whilst arguing until two in the morning with my fellow senators. But don’t get me wrong. The two major political entities, Student Action and CalSERVE, do occasionally unite by party at the expense of students. Although this still angers and frustrates me to the core, I now realize the existence of these parties inadvertently highlights the awesomeness of the ASUC. Since many schools do not even have student-made political parties, the very existence of these parties showcases the intensity and seriousness of our student government. I am proud of that intensity.

At the core of this column rests information that will make you cringe, cry and laugh. Never hesitate to email me with tips, praises or words of contempt. For those of you freshmen who don’t yet understand why the student government has such a presence on our campus, I can hold your hand in the spring as we walk through Sproul Plaza and get berated by flyers. I mean that in the least creepy way possible.

Contact Noah Ickowitz at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter @noahickowitz.