It was another spring at Portland State University and the new politicos of the Associated Students of Portland State University, otherwise known as our student government, were poised to take office. A review of ASPSU 2002-2003 would be incomplete without noting that the campaign that led up to the election last March was mired in contention and political backbiting reminiscent of big city mayoral politics, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The candidates challenged each other on every move: accusations of ethics violations, concerns relating to breaches of constitutional procedure and even insinuations of one campaign ripping another candidate’s fliers down, reminiscent of small town high school elections (and that is necessarily a bad thing). The dust settled in the Student Union, and a new ASPSU headed by Kristen Wallace and Dune Zhu, a Student Fee Committee with chairperson Tracy Earll and a fractious senate were elected by 1,200 student voters.
Wallace and Zhu began with an ambitious agenda that obviously registered with student voters. Their agenda was divided into three main sections. ACCESS: tuition freezes, child care block grants and student evaluations of classes for other students to access; DIVERSITY: black studies major, Chicano/a-Latino/a studies major, Native American studies minor, queer resource center, and recruitment and retention initiatives; COMMUNITY: campus public safety, family study areas and “challenge your athlete” activities.
The executive branch also spearheaded a voter registration drive, a Measure 28 voter drive and an Oregon Legislature lobbying day. Wallace/Zhu also benefited from their predecessors by ushering in the PSU Dental Plan for students.
What the executive branch reached for isn’t exactly what they grasped. While major successes were achieved (the recent passage of a black studies major, an enthusiastic voter registration drive, passionate work for the child care block grant, Miriam Gonzales’ work for Oregon Student Association and unflagging support for the queer resource center, for example) many seemed destined for actualization before the Wallace/Zhu administration took helm. In other words, the momentum for a black studies major preceded the work of Wallace/Zhu, as did the work on the Chicano-Latino studies program and the PSU Dental Plan.
The ambitious components of the Wallace/Zhu agenda, like the equal right’s advocate position, the tuition freeze (a losing proposition from the beginning) and student class evaluations for students were stalled by disorganization, flagging leadership and shoddy communication.
Other concerns like campus safety, family study areas and coherent executive committees took a back seat (without a seatbelt, no less) to political rumors and infighting that had long since escaped the confines of the ASPSU office. If the administration was ever on an articulate and comprehensive track, it was forever dismantled with the proffered resignations of Vice President Dune Zhu and Jason Lowery, multicultural affairs director. Although denied as politically motivated, at the time it resonates as the defining element of this administration: a lack of clear, sincere leadership. Both Wallace and Zhu and others are complicit in this.
Some would argue that a senate that is split ideologically is a senate that can get nothing done, and that is a good thing. We strongly disagree. The ASPSU Senate suffered greatly from the regurgitation of fractious artificial ideologies (read: right versus left), which rendered a foundation that defined the senate from the beginning. It would be unfair to say that all senators at all times engaged in this way, but ongoing arguments about procedures, constitutional issues (partly the fault of a muddled reading of the constitution by the Evaluation and Constitutional Review Committee) and slack attendance overshadowed any effort to serve the students. It is with irony that we note the only resounding success of the senate was a redefinition of what the “senator” actually is, in the shape of a new job description.
Student Fee Committee
Who are the million-dollar students? The Student Fee Committee (SFC), composed of five members and chaired by Tracy Earll, is responsible for the consideration and allocation of millions of dollars in student fees. The SFC reports to the student senate and works with the Oregon Student Association on issues related to student fees. Last September, Earll proposed several defining tenets of her upcoming tenure: a revision of stipends paid to student workers, creation of a standard policy for student travel per diem, and an improvement of communication between the committee and student organizations. What Earll and the committee could not foresee was the controversy that presently surrounds them and the Oregon Public Interest research Group, which was denied the level of funding that it formerly enjoyed. Now the committee faces legal and constitutional questions about its own policies and guidelines concerning student initiatives and referendums proposed by student groups who seek additional funding beyond what the committee approved. It would not be an understatement to say that the SFC has made some enemies. Tellingly, though, this may be because it has approached the task of allocating fees with more consistency than other committees in the past. OSPIRG’s budget has been rubber stamped by past committees but now is facing, under Earll, a reduction of funds that, in essence, dismantles the organization at PSU. What the SFC and the next chair face in the upcoming school year is the actualization of Earll’s original intent: to improve communication. There is a dire need to clarify the procedural rules of the SFC; to clarify the SFC’s opinion on other avenues that groups may pursue to usurp the SFC’s own budgetary allocations and, most importantly; to take the lead as an authority at PSU on issues of fairness, freedom of speech and the committee’s own commitment to an unbiased approach to the allocation of funds. This is far more difficult when the member’s own organizational affiliations are considered (athletics, academic groups and social groups among them), but this what makes it an absolute necessity. Without strong, clear statements about the SFC’s ethical obligations, the integrity of the SFC will continue to be in question.
Evaluation and Constitutional Review Committee
The startlingly bitter campaigns may have been a foreshadowing of the ASPSU to come, but no on would have expected the E&CR to be the lightning rod for much of the discordance that racked ASPSU the last two quarters. Then again, that is what they were elected for: to review and clarify procedural and constitutional questions concerning the governance of the students. The level of skill and limited dedication never allowed the E&CR to commandingly take center stage, and that is where it was, like it or not. Committee members exasperated by the length of debates is anathema to a thorough review of the questions that beset them. We strongly believe that the committee members were fully capable of dissecting the constitution with authority, but failed to do so. Proper removal of ineffectual senators, legality of meeting procedures, and serious concerns about the referendum and initiative processes will haunt the next student government.