Watson Refuses to Sign USSA Legislation

Vice Chancellor Joseph Watson said Friday that he will not sign legislation that would increase student tuition by six dollars per year to facilitate increased participation and membership in the United States Student Association and the University of California Student Association, despite a student vote in favor of the change two weeks ago in the A.S. Council election.

“”This is a fee increase that students have mandated through a democratic process,”” said A.S. Vice President External Eugene Mahmoud. “”As a student body, we have the right to increase our own Associated Student activity fee for any purpose.””

Watson said that he would not approve the bill because the student body will not directly see the benefits of membership.

“”Students have no control over this expenditure,”” he said. “”I have no problem of the [Associated Students] supporting this. In fact, they have been doing so.””

However, Watson said that students can choose what to fund with money allocated by the A.S. Council. They can request a refund if they choose not to support any event or idea. Conversely, once 20 percent of the student body votes, and when more students vote yes on a referendum than no, students have no choice but to give the extra money.

In addition, Watson said he would not sign the legislation because he feels there was not adequate discussion of the issue. In contrast, if the money had been allocated by the A.S. Council as opposed to being allocated through elections, then all the senators and commissioners would have a chance to debate the allocation of money.

In a letter to Mahmoud on this issue, Watson stated that the USSA referendum question in the election booklet was poorly written, misleading and not a UC-controlled student activity.

Mahmoud said he questions the validity of these points.

“”His interpretation of the language is of no real importance,”” Mahmoud said of Watson. “”What is important is that ASUCSD understands that the sole function of the referendum was to increase the student activity fees by $2. There is no UC policy that allows vice chancellors the ability to interpret A.S. student activity fee increases to provide a function they do not.””

UC campuses currently contribute to both UCSA and USSA. Increasing the money the organizations receive does not violate any UC policies.

Regardless, Watson said the administration told the A.S. Council before the deadline that it would not sign the legislation, even if it passed.

“”We can’t take things off the ballot,”” he said. “”But we made it clear that we didn’t support the issue.””

Mahmoud said that he was not notified of the administration’s stance.

“”I did not know that he wouldn’t approve it, and I take offense to people suggesting I did,”” he said. “”Why would I waste my time initiating something like this if I thought it wouldn’t even reach the chancellor’s desk?””

Over the course of election week, 2,646 students voted on the issue; 1,478 voted yes and 1,268 students voted no.

Although the numbers of students who voted in favor of the legislation will change nothing at this time, Mahmoud is still encouraging other students to lobby to get Watson to sign the bill.

“”I think the biggest pressure [Watson] can get is from students,”” he said. “”I think students need to write him letters.””

A.S. Council President Doc Khaleghi believes that even if Watson does sign it, the bill will never be passed by the UC Regents, as they have rejected similar bills from UC Santa Barbara and UCLA.

“”The regents have already set the precedent that they won’t sign these,”” he said.

Mahmoud said the regents have always been cautious about signing legislation such as this.

“”Basically, the UC Regents have had a history of narrowly and conservatively interpreting legislation and court cases regarding student fee autonomy,”” he said. “”Allocations to organizations are to be done in a manner that’s content-neutral, and [the UC Regents] don’t feel that referendums are content-neutral.””

Although the 1993 court case of Smith v. Regents established that students can use their fees to lobby, the UC Regents are against giving money to outside groups such as USSA for this purpose.

“”If we are allowed to lobby, we should be able to have access to whatever resources and associations we as students see fit to do the job,”” Mahmoud said. “”We students should not be limited to face-to-face lobbying.””

USSA has been the only student lobbying group in Washington, D.C. for the last 53 years. However, because it is not directly affiliated with the UC campuses, the regents have not allowed money from referenda to go to it.

“”To say that USSA is not controlled by UC students is true, but that makes sense because it works at a national level and seeks to involve all students,”” Mahmoud said. “”To say that because it works as national level, it doesn’t focus on issues pertinent to UCSD students is like saying you should only pay state tax, because federal tax goes to the government, and they won’t do anything for you as a California citizen.””

Mahmoud also said that the UC Regents do not feel that USSA has any educational value to the students, although USSA gave UCSD a grant last year to increase voter turnout, in addition to providing staff for the Students of Color Conference in February.

“”The UC system only wants students to lobby through UCSA because [its] work is limited to working with them,”” Mahmoud said. “”If we only work within the UC system, we as UC students don’t realize that other school systems interpret national legislation more liberally than the UC system in some cases. Also, they don’t want to see our alliances being stronger than theirs.””

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