ASUC decides to place Transfer Referendum on 2019 ballot after debate

Stephanie Li/Staff

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ASUC senators narrowly voted to place the Transfer Referendum on the 2019 ASUC elections ballot during a special meeting Thursday evening.

Senators debated over the Transfer Referendum, which would establish a designated transfer student representative within the ASUC, at Wednesday night’s regular meeting and delayed the vote until Thursday evening to allow the bill’s primary sponsors to amend the language.

11 senators voted for placing it on the ballot, only one more than the necessary 10 votes needed to secure its place. Senators Amir Wright, Regina Kim, Nick Araujo and Isabella Chow voted against the resolution, citing ambiguities in the referendum’s language, among other reasons.

Wright asked why there was a sense of urgency around passing the referendum this year, given that both the chief legal officer, Claire Goudy, and the ASUC’s professional legal counsel have expressed concerns about creating the transfer representative position. He said he would rather wait until the referendum is further refined and “legally airtight” before placing it on the ballot.

The referendum presents a substantial legal risk, since it can be interpreted as “reserving a seat” for a platform, according to Goudy. She added, however, that data from the registrar’s office can make a defensible case that transfer students have a disadvantage in the elections cycle.

“It is our responsibility to consider this uncertainty and this legal risk,” Goudy said during Thursday’s meeting. “Those are odds that future senate classes, future students, may have to contend with — part of fiduciary responsibility is conceptualizing those risks.”

Ultimately, Goudy said she could not predict how a judge would rule if the ASUC is sued over the Transfer Referendum. There is little to no legal precedent, and she said she is unsure if the ASUC would be held to the standards of a government organization or nonprofit.

The transfer representative would be an elected official who is separate from the ASUC Senate and executive board — all bylaws that apply to senators, however, would also apply to the transfer representative. Kim said there are enough inconsistencies in the language that could cause difficulties for future senate classes and judicial councils.

The ASUC’s constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of “academic status,” and Araujo is concerned that establishing this office could lead to a constitutional amendment and start a “precedent of reserving seats.” Neil McClintick, transfer director in ASUC President Alexander Wilfert’s office, said during the meeting that the constitution was written in 1887, which was likely before transfer students were even admitted to UC Berkeley — there’s no way of knowing what is meant by “academic status,” McClintick said.

During Wednesday night’s regular meeting, several transfer students spoke during public comment to voice their support for the referendum. Many brought up that there are institutional barriers to the ASUC for transfer students — most notably, if a transfer student wants to run for a senate or executive position, they must start networking in their first semester on campus in order to be slated by an ASUC political party.

“A vast majority of you ran in your sophomore or junior years,” said transfer student and ASUC senate candidate Carolyn Le, addressing the current senators during public comment. “Imagine only being able to reach out to people from that same year.”

During the meeting, senators also voted to place the Student Basic Needs Referendum and the Arts, Music and Programming, or AMP, Initiative on the ballot as well. Both the Basic Needs Referendum and the AMP Initiative would fund SUPERB and basic needs programming with student fees.

Before the vote on the transfer referendum took place, Wilfert, the referendum’s primary sponsor, said that although he understands the legal risk, the ASUC should prioritize equity for transfer students.

“This is the defining moment of our senate class,” said Senator Aaron Bryce Lee before the vote. “It’s the moment between progress and law, and sometimes those two don’t align.”

Anjali Shrivastava is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.