The Associated Students of Portland State University canceled at least 10 committee meetings since the start of the spring quarter, most often due to lack of quorum. The canceled meetings, compounded with low voter turnout in this year’s ASPSU elections and the resignation of at least seven student government members this winter, point to an overall struggle for ASPSU leaders to maintain accountability and structure within the organization.
Coordinator of Student Government and Advisor for Greek Life Candace Avalos pointed to a number of reasons ASPSU members give for missing required meetings, including time conflicts with other classes and extracurricular activities. However, Avalos added members don’t always let directors know they can’t make a meeting until the last minute, meaning “there’s a lot of last minute cancellations due to quorum.”
“We tried to do committee night, where students would plan their schedules around a particular day,” Avalos said, “but it didn’t work out very well. I think we are on the path to changing the culture, [but] it needs to be something that’s structured.”
According to former ASPSU President Brent Finkbeiner, meeting cancellations have decreased this term. However, in an April 16 address to the student senate, he said last-minute cancellations would no longer be considered acceptable and could result in members losing their seats.
“From here forward, if it’s not 24 hours before the meeting, [your absence] won’t be excused,” Finkbeiner said. “We do not like this part, but if these bylaws are violated, we will bring up attention requests for articles of impeachment.”
He added, “We don’t do this with intent of being punitive or pushing people out, but we are losing our accountability.”
ASPSU leadership positions are paid through Education Leadership Service Awards, which provide financial support for PSU students in leadership positions affiliated with the university. According to Avalos, members are required to sit on two committees, attend senate meetings every other Monday evening, attend four leadership fellows meetings per term—with accompanying homework assignments—and maintain a GPA above 2.5 and consistent enrollment in six or more credits per term in order to receive their ELSAs.
ELSA amounts are determined by the Dean of Student Life using a point system based on the scope of responsibilities for each student leader position. ASPSU Senate members receive $700 per term. Student Fee Committee Members, who are responsible for distributing about $15 million of student fees, receive $1,500 per term, and the ASPSU president receives $2,700 per term.
Avalos said ASPSU leaders could be held more accountable if their ELSAs were retracted if they didn’t meet the requirements. However, she said, “ASPSU leadership needs to decide what the criteria [are] going to be for [retracting ELSAs].”
“I can, on behalf of the ASPSU, retract ELSAs for the lack of commitment, [but] my problem is that I need good structured criteria to justify it,”Avalos added. “It has to be something consistent. We’re not just going to start taking away people’s ELSAs without talking to them.”
Finkbeiner said attendance issues may come as a result of the high number of meetings ASPSU members are expected to attend—sometimes as many as four per week. “That is something perhaps the next administration [can] restructure,” he said. “Is having [fewer] more effective meetings something ASPSU wants to pursue, and is that something the students want?”
Luis Balderas-Villagrana took over as ASPSU President on June 1. Finkbeiner said, “I hope that the new administration has learned from lessons this past year and what is effective when being lenient and understanding as a leader.”
“I have a lot of confidence in Luis and [incoming ASPSU Vice President Lelani Lealiiee] in doing that, and I do believe that they are going to be able to use the lessons learned this year to enforce those policies,” Finkbeiner added. “It was very difficult for me to enforce things…Not enough people respected the agreements that they made through the ASPSU constitution.”
“I would agree that [ASPSU has] an issue with commitment,” Avalos said. “I think…the last minute cancelling, [members] not letting anyone know they can’t make it or scheduling classes when they know they are supposed to meet…is a symptom of a larger, not only ASPSU, but a PSU problem, just like juggling these very different student lives and trying to get them in one place.”