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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

How well are students represented in Arizona?

The State of Arizona has cut more than $1.1 in education funding. The Arizona Board of Regents voted to raise the cost of tuition and fees to attend the UA by nearly a quarter. As current Wildcats face larger classes and fewer academic programs paired with higher fees, higher tuition rates and ever-higher unemployment rates, it inspires the question: how much input do we as student have in these vital concerns, and how much do we deserve?

The regular tropes of quasi-representative government are in place, sure. We have the Associate Students of the University of Arizona, the Graduate and Professional Student Council, the Arizona Students’ Association and there are even two student Regents on the Arizona Board of Regents. But the accountability, transparency and effectiveness of these organizations diminishes their purpose and demeans their constituents. UA students are not well represented to or in the state legislature, and we have an engorged new tuition figure to show for it.

ASUA performs many functions, and many of them it does well: ZonaZoo, SafeRide and Spring Fling are all commonly-cited programs that mark ASUA successes. But by no stretch of the Aryan imagination does ASUA excel in representation. In the recent election, less than 10 percent of the more than 38,000 students even bothered to cast a ballot. Only 16 candidates launched campaigns to run for the 10 available at-large senate positions. The model itself provides for anemic representation — 10 student representatives for a student body of nearly 40,000 allows for a .025 percent rate of representation. The perception that ASUA doesn’t do anything leads to supposed student representation that, well, doesn’t do anything, at least not at a level higher than flinging carnivals around in springtime.

The Arizona Students Association purports to be the body that represents the students and promote their interests in the state. Their mission statement claims, “”The Arizona Students’ Association is an organization directed and funded by Arizona’s public university students. ASA works to make sure that higher education in Arizona is affordable and accessible by advocating to elected officials and running issue campaigns to engage students. Recent issues ASA has worked on include fighting tuition increases.””

No matter how sharp its logo looks on a business card, the relative success of this organization has been negligible at best and non-existent at worst. The Regents have raised tuition every year since before the Association existed, and the state legislature has cut funding to higher education at record levels in recent years. As the organization employs eight full-time staff members whose salaries are paid with student money, it would follow that the associated students that attend Arizona universities would demand some results.

In the tangled web that is student “”representation,”” the presidents of the student governments and graduate student governments are on the ASA board of directors. All other members of the ASA board are appointed by the relative university’s student body president. As pointed out above, only 2,714 students at the UA voted for this office in the recent elections. Fewer than 7 percent of UA students chose the unopposed candidate for ASUA president, who will serve on and appoint others to the board of the only student-funded organization that claims to represent and advocate for all 105,000 students enrolled in Arizona universities.

The ASA’s mission statement reads as though reduction of tuition and student costs are their only concerns. This is certainly not the only concern of university students who could be taken up by a lobby group; Proposition 100 and the Student Aide and Fiscal Responsibility Act are two that come to mind. The ASA does not represent students but, further, does not know what students want and seems to care little about what students need. It does not appear to survey students for whom they lobby, and its stance on the UA president’s recent tuition proposal was to not have a position. It takes a very optimistic lobbyist to think one can convince a legislator to listen without saying anything.

Further, if keeping tuition cost low is indeed ASA’s only concern, it has failed miserably. Not only has tuition gone up by nearly 50 percent in the last four years, but support from state legislators in regard to funding for higher education continues to be anorexic at best.

In a recent letter from the Graduate and Professional Student Association at ASU, Justin Boren reveals only more problems within the organization. “”I am … concerned that the students of the state will soon realize that the inaction of the Board of Directors has profound and direct effects on them.”” He continues, “”We must act to be better fiduciaries of the students and reject the notion that politics between board members is tantamount to advocacy.”” The point is well made, and this constituent of the board hopes it will be well taken.

Representation of students on matters that feel so out of our control is vital — as effective lobbying and advocacy could have been the difference between having to pay that $500 Honors College fee and not. Student representatives should untangle themselves from the knot of interpersonal bureaucra-bullshit and do their jobs: represent the authentic interests of students of the three Arizona universities.

—Anna Swenson is a sophomore majoring in English.

She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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