A civics lesson for UCSA

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: Students were deprived of an opportunity to address the UC Student Association about a resolution it passed last weekend.

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The UC Student Association is struggling to abide by its own words.

The first sentence of a resolution passed by the UCSA board at a meeting at UC Berkeley last weekend states that “a marketplace of ideas where no political speech is suppressed is crucial to a healthy democratic process.” Yet when the board voted on that resolution, it did so without allowing the political speech of a significant stakeholder group to factor into its discussion, thereby tarnishing any hint of democratic procedure.

UCSA’s board displayed a stunning lack of transparency in its vote on the resolution, which is contentious for two main reasons. First, it condemns a state Assembly resolution, HR 35, that aims to quell anti-Semitism on college campuses. HR 35 has drawn criticism from opponents who say it goes too far and restricts freedom of speech.

Second, the UCSA resolution calls for higher education institutions to “cleanse their investment portfolios of unethical investments in companies implicated in or profiting from violations of international human rights law, without making special exemptions for any one country.” Though the resolution does not specifically mention Israel in that language, there should be little doubt that it is referring to the Jewish state at least in part.

Despite the resolution’s politically charged subject matter, the board did not allow for an open debate with many students, namely members of the Jewish community, that would likely oppose the resolution. One excuse offered for the exclusive nature of the meeting was to avoid “intimidation tactics.” Yet seeking input from the diverse student body UCSA is charged with representing hardly qualifies as such. Because the resolution touches on an issue about which many students disagree, it would have undoubtedly elicited an intense discussion, but that is no excuse to avoid encouraging thorough student input.

UC Berkeley students have been down this road before. In 2010, the ASUC Senate voted on a bill that encouraged the university to divest from companies associated with alleged Israeli war crimes. Meetings to consider the bill lasted up to nine hours, and though the senate passed the bill, a veto from the ASUC president was never overturned.

But last weekend’s vote was held without any regard for the opposition. It was not publicized prior to the meeting, so the Jewish community didn’t become aware of the UCSA resolution until it was too late. The fact that the vote occurred on the Jewish Sabbath and the day before the start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, certainly didn’t help.

Furthermore, the exact location of the board meeting was not available on the UCSA’s website — only the fact that it was taking place somewhere on the UC Berkeley campus. Coupled with the board’s unwillingness to spread the word about its agenda — which was only posted online following the meeting — the average student would have been hard-pressed to find details about the UCSA board meeting ahead of time.

Public participation is especially paramount when UCSA considers divisive issues. Last weekend, students deserved the opportunity to address the board prior to its vote, even if it meant a long and crowded meeting. That’s not scare tactics. That’s democracy.