Needed: A Focused, Realistic A.S. Resolution

    My eight quarters at UCSD have given me many things: triumphs and successes, sleepless nights and headaches and perhaps most importantly of all, the ability to witness numerous occasions of unadulterated impracticality. As you may or may not find surprising, many of those moments were spent behind my laptop in Price Center Ballroom A, also known as the site of my year-and-a-quarter stint as the A.S. Council beat writer.

    A large part of my oft-thrilling job entailed sitting at council meetings every Wednesday night to observe the highlights (and lowlights) of our student government’s performance. While I don’t deny that the council as an entity has done its fair share of productive things over the years, there was always one particular agenda item that habitually left me scratching my head and looking at my watch: the generally well-meaning, but often misguided, resolution.

    For those unfamiliar with the concept of a resolution, it is a nonbinding statement designed to communicate the council’s opinion on an issue. In the last two years, the council has passed a whopping 30 of them, ranging in topics from the campus’s automated course waitlist program, the proposed off-campus Hillel Center, national immigration policy and – my favorite – a resolution to ban A.S. President Harry Khanna from the Web site Facebook.com. (Seriously.)

    However well-intentioned, most of these resolutions effectively fall flat almost immediately after their passage – either the subjects are too lofty to have an easy solution, or the sheer nightmare of bureaucracy leads to nothing but bickering and wasted time.

    Most recently, the council voted on April 18 to pass a resolution offering condolences to families of the victims from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University shootings. After debate about semantics led to a failed proposal to postpone the resolution for a week, the meeting broke for a 30-minute recess.

    This wouldn’t be the first time.

    A little more than a year ago, the outgoing council debated a resolution in support of establishing April 24 as a day of remembrance for victims of genocide in Armenia. The stage was set for what seemed to be an easy vote, with a passionate, knowledgeable speaker explaining how his organization desired the council’s help to honor all his countrymen who had died.

    Now I’ll be the first to admit that, at the time, I knew next to nothing about this incident and what I did know was vague and sketchy (thanks, Making of the Modern World). So, I was not particularly surprised when several councilmembers commented that they did not feel prepared enough to vote on such a heated topic. However, this argument quickly merged with the idea that it was not the council’s place to make sweeping social generalizations, and that any such undertaking would ultimately be pointless and ineffective.

    Many councilmembers then began to ponder the body’s true purpose. Some senators said that the council’s purpose is to be a body of action on behalf of students, which should focus on student issues that it can feasibly solve. Had I not been forced to hide behind my shield of impartiality, I’d have been right there with the senators snapping their fingers in agreement – the issue was not about what a government would like to do, but understanding the limitations of what it can do.

    No one in the room debated the horror of genocide or the reprehensibility of its perpetuators. Similarly, I’m confident that no one believed expressing condolences to grieving families was an unworthy undertaking. But with UCSD’s student government structured the way it is, resolutions have proven to have a mixed success rate – often making the council appear weaker than it really is because some of its rallying cries can realistically accomplish little.

    In looking back at the resolutions of the past two years, only a moderate percentage of them appear to have had any direct effect on campus (or governmental) policy. Though the council advocated for them, students lack complete control of their Student-Run Television station, a problem-free course waitlist system, freedom from excessive fee hikes, the Hillel Center and certainly a “”just and comprehensive”” national immigration policy. As for Khanna and his Facebook addiction, don’t be fooled – he’s online right now as I sit here writing this column. None of this can be blamed on the A.S. Council, however, because these were never problems that the council could actually do anything about.

    In fact, when resolutions pertain to UCSD directly, they seem to have a much higher success rate – council support for the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services last year undoubtedly played a role in garnering financial backing for the program when it faced severe budget cuts. Similarly, a resolution encouraging the university to provide fair trade products on campus might very well have impacted Housing and Dining Services’ decision to offer fair-trade coffee options. The problem with resolutions, therefore, is a simple one – in order for them to be effective, the council must have a realistic idea of what it can accomplish, and put its time and resources into those particular projects.

    The council recently received a wake-up call through unexpected student support for Revelle College senior and former independent presidential candidate Junaid Fatehi, perhaps the only candidate to openly admit he didn’t want the position for which he was running. Fatehi, who scorned councilmembers as mere figureheads who make empty promises, only reinforced the idea that superfluous resolutions fail to do the council any good. When 388 students vote for a presidential candidate who urinates on Round Table Pizza’s wall at the announcement of election returns, it makes a statement (however limited) about student confidence in their own government. By attempting to solve more problems than it has the power to change, the council shifts the focus away from all that it is accomplishing, and dwells on what it simply has no control over.

    My advice to our esteemed leaders, from the perspective of a moderately informed observer: If you must make a resolution, stick to the realm of possibility and keep in mind the fine line between being politically responsible and shooting for the moon.

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