During the second to last meeting of the school year, the Associated Students Council of San Diego State voted to approve a controversial government restructuring concept meant to downsize student representation and decentralize power away from student organizations.
A.S. President Grant Mack removed himself as chair and passed his gavel to Executive Vice President Sean Kashanchi, which gave Mack the right to vote in favor of his own memo outlining the restructure.
“As the chair of A.S. Council, I have the authority to pass the power of facilitating to another member … to remove myself from an issue that may conflict with my ability to chair in an unbiased manner,” Mack wrote in an e-mail.
The new structure changes the way student organizations are represented so there is no direct liaison between the groups and the new A.S. Board of Directors.
Currently there is representation in A.S. for groups such as the Jewish Student Union and Asian Pacific Student Alliance, but in the restructured version, the groups would be consolidated into the Multi-Cultural Caucus Board with no guaranteed direct representation on the Board of Directors.
Key officials within the council say the restructure is meant to streamline the legislative process, making it run more smoothly. The changes are being developed to protect the policies that oversee facilities such as the Aztec Recreation Center.
Policies that deal with student organization funding can be changed, overturned or ignored.
Restructuring A.S. is also an attempt to model the student governing body into a corporate structure more befitting the multi-million dollar corporation that it resembles.
“When it comes down to it, we do have to realize that A.S. is a business,” newly elected Vice President of Finance and former Daily Aztec employee Rob O’Keefe wrote in an e-mail. As a business we need to find ways in which we can be the most effective with our time, energy and actions.”
The vote took place on April 27 in Montezuma Hall after a stream of students from Greek and cultural organizations addressed A.S. during the public comment portion of the meeting. Representatives from the United Sorority & Fraternity Council and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan asked the council to delay voting until the fall.
“We’re against the currently proposed A.S. restructure and we would like for (the Council) to table this issue for next year’s council so we as an organization can further develop a more inclusive and diverse plan,” USFC Vice President Teresa Watson said. “We do not feel confident in our representatives to vote on something that is not concrete.”
M.E.Ch.A. President Laura Moreno spoke out in opposition of the restructuring plan because it combines all culturally based student organizations into one representative who would be overseen by a diversity commissioner appointed by the new board of directors.
“As cultural organizations, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to change,” Moreno said. “We do want to change.
“We think that the current A.S. representation is not what truly represents all students and that’s why we do want (the A.S. Council) to hear that voice, a different voice on campus.”
M.E.Ch.A. Council Rep. Washington Navarrete’s motion to table the vote failed though, and the council continued to debate the original motion spiritedly.
Last September, Mack formed an ad hoc committee consisting of only A.S. Council members and A.S. Government Affairs Executive Director Dan Cornthwaite. They began “drafting plans and a concept of an enhanced student governing and corporate structure,” Mack wrote.
Throughout the course of the school year, the committee met every week on Friday afternoons, according to committee member and College of Arts and Letters Council Rep. Krista Parker. She wrote that the meeting dates and times were announced throughout the year at A.S. Council meetings and were always open to the public.
Two weeks before the April 27 vote, Mack sent out a memo to the A.S. Council that read:
“…the A.S. Council has the sole authority to vote in favor of moving forward with the proposed A.S. government restructuring concept as presented in the documentation attached to this memorandum. By approving this memorandum and the attached documentation the A.S. Council is voting in favor of the proposed A.S. government restructuring concept and authorizes the A.S. staff and succeeding A.S. Executive Officers and Council members to begin drafting specifics and detailed information to implement the proposed A.S. government restructuring.”
Included within the body of the memo is a detailed draft of the organization of committees, sub-committees and councils, all of which are restructured. A diagram is attached to it outlining a new hierarchy.
Still, there were many questions posed to the committee by A.S. Council members who weren’t sure exactly what they were voting on. They asked if it was a concept or the specific plan outlined in the diagram. Mack maintained that the vote was for the concept.
The motion passed 18-16-2.
Seven members of the ad hoc committee who helped develop the plan outlined in the memo voted. Four voted in favor of it, including Mack and Parker and three voted against it. The two abstentions that could have tied the vote came from InterFraternity Council Rep. Eric Anderberg and College of Engineering Rep. Christopher Grajo.
Sociology graduate student Susan Phay and physics freshman Trevor Kerchner have some differences, but both admit to not being very involved in student organizations. Kerchner is a physics major and Phay is studying sociology. One is just beginning his college career and the other has maneuvered her way past undergraduate work to specialize in a field of study that ignites her interest.
Another similarity between them is that neither has received notification from their respective college representatives and both wish they had.
“I only hear about them if they’re running for election,” Phay said. “I don’t feel any sort of connection to them or to A.S. really, even though they do a lot for our campus.
“Maybe if they found a way to keep us updated, maybe it would be different.”
Parker and fellow CAL Rep. Tom Rivera pointed to the electronic newsletters sent to each CAL student, the college’s website and Facebook as means through which CAL students could have found out about the process of restructuring.
“Every student has the opportunity to come to our council and discuss issues that we’re facing as students,” Parker wrote. “As representatives, we do as much as we can to reach out to our students, however, students have to want to know as well.”
College of Engineering President Danielle Gilbert also pointed to the fact that students involved in groups such as M.E.Ch.A. are doubly represented on the A.S. Council: once by their college representative and once by their student organization. “This isn’t fair,” she wrote.
“(The) current structure does not allow for the best possible representation of the students at SDSU,” Gilbert wrote. “(It) both over and under represents different groups of students.
“I don’t feel that the general student body knows that A.S. is restructuring but I also don’t feel that they have an idea of how A.S. is structured now or the issues with the current infrastructure,” he continued. “I believe that the proposed changes will allow us to better communicate with the student body.”
Moreno has asked A.S. to inform the entire student body about their intention to change its structure. But members of the ad hoc committee asserted that they have already sufficiently informed the A.S. Council, which is then supposed to bring the information to its constituents.
Mack said everyone was invited to get involved. Some did, but didn’t continue attending the ad hoc committee meetings.
“Decisions are made by those that show up,” Mack said during the council meeting.
O’Keefe commented that a current problem is that many students do not involve themselves in student government.
“Just look at the last election,” he said. “To bring the subject of restructuring to the student body would just scare people and cause misunderstandings between the students and A.S. that are unnecessary. For these reasons, I think its best that decisions about internal operations are kept behind closed doors.”
Kerchner said even though he isn’t active in any student organization, he would be interested in attending meetings about restructuring if he knew when they were happening.
“I think that everyone’s group should have a say in (the A.S. Council). Everyone should have a representative from their group so that everyone’s opinion gets in there,” Kerchner said.