Reps. Question Campuswide Committees

Tucked away behind the concrete facade of UCSD’s exterior, there runs an extensive series of committees — small, isolated groups of administrators, faculty members and students charged with drafting the intricate policies that dictate how this campus is run. Meal plans, shuttle routes, housing costs and on-campus speech rights are just a few of the areas governed by these committees — all subject to the whims and judgment of the individuals selected to serve therein.

The student component of this arrangement, however, may not be functioning the way it is supposed to, according to various administrators and members of student government. They claim there is a troubling lack of interaction between the students chosen to serve on these committees and the A.S. Council — the body responsible for appointing and overseeing these representatives.

“Unfortunately — and this has been a recurring problem year after year — we don’t have very good communication with our representatives,” A.S. President Utsav Gupta said. “We don’t know if our representatives even go to their committee meetings, and we don’t know if these committees — which are actually mostly advisory in nature — are even meeting. This is really due to the fact that A.S. Council, for the most part, has not performed well in reaching out and communicating with representatives after they have been appointed.”

The issue of accountability among campuswide committees has been popping up more and more lately. Various councilmembers — including both Gupta and A.S. President-elect Wafa Ben Hassine — allege that, once chosen, those who sit on the committees do little to inform the council prior to making policy decisions that affect the entire campus.

For example, the Transportation Policy Committee will soon be voting on a measure that would cut shuttle routes in order to compensate for Parking and Transportation Services’ current budget deficit.

In addition, last month, the On-Campus Housing, Dining and Hospitality Advisory Committee passed an increase in mandatory dining dollars — $98 more for students in the residence halls, and $75 more for those in apartments.

Though councilmembers are required to serve on at least one campuswide committee, the student body does not have a direct say in the appointment of representatives to most of the committees. Instead, students elect the Vice President of Student Life — a position currently held by Revelle College senior Ricsie Hernandez, and soon to be filled by Warren College sophomore Kristina Pham, as of Week Seven — who is then responsible for interviewing and appointing representatives. If a committee position opens that no councilmember wishes to fill, then the position is made available to the general undergraduate population.

Gupta said that, once committee members are appointed, their job descriptions — as well as their rights within the committee — are anything but clear.

Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Chris Westling, who spent the last two years sitting on the HDH Committee, the Bookstore Advisory Committee, the Academic Freedom Committee, the University Centers Advisory Board and the Light Rail Transit Committee — as well as attending Transportation Policy Committee meetings, as a part of the Student Sustainability Collective — said that A.S. councilmembers often fail to show up to meetings, or are unprepared when they do.

He added that the relative inexperience of these members — combined with a lack of training and institutional memory — can sometimes lead to uninformed decisions.

“Nothing [about the position] was really described to me beforehand,” Westling said. “A lot of times, frankly, the room is full with a majority of students, but the administrator has been there for 20 to 30 years, and the students are first-years — and, I don’t blame them, but they just found out what interest rates were yesterday, and then they’re voting on increasing student fees.

I’m not trying to fault these first-years, because they’re trying their best, but there’s an institutional problem there.”

Warren College junior Priya Kanayson, on the other hand, said that her experience as the member at large on the HDH Committee was a positive one.

“I think this is one of the few committees on campus that is basically student-driven, because all of the programs that we’ve run have come from the committee and what their constituents have told them,” Kanayson said. “Overall, attendance is really good. I think last quarter we had a couple members who were sick or whatever, and they couldn’t come, but they notified us and they did a good job of reading the minutes and knowing what was going on.”

As a student staff representative — standing for students who work on campus — Kanayson does not report back to the A.S. Council. Instead, her constituents are the residence advisors and on-campus undergraduates she works and goes to school with every day. According to Hernandez, committee members that do come from the council are informed of their responsibility to communicate with their constituents before being hired to their new positions.

“I use the charge letter as the basis for the committee description and commitments,” Hernandez said. “I let them know what the committee does, their role on the committee, how much time they should commit… I also let them know that a student voice is important on the committee that they are serving on.”

Some committees — like the Diversity and Equity Committee — are completely lacking in student representation, based on the fact that no members show up.

“The truth is we have only seen our student member, like, once a year,” Judy Varner, vice chair of the Diversity and Equality Committee, said.

In the two years she has served on the committee, Varner said she has seen an A.S. representative at only two of the committee’s quarterly meetings.

“We definitely would like student input,” Varner said. “The trouble right now is that we are trying to deal with all of the issues that have arisen out of the racially motivated conflicts on campus, and it’s a lot of extra work — and certainly, student-faculty interaction is one of the things we’d like to see improved.”

Trevor Buchanan, chair of the Library Committee, said this is not a new problem: Student attendance at meetings has been historically infrequent. However, he added that representatives do contribute when present.

“There’s plenty of opportunity for students to input things in the committee if they show up,” Buchanan said. “We have had very good representatives before… Part of the problem we have with the A.S. representatives is that they don’t always show to the meetings, and we’re often not assigned representatives in a timely fashion.”

According to the A.S. charter, dealing with the failure of committee appointees to show up for meetings is the responsibility of the VP Student Life. In response, Hernandez said that she feels that, overall, student representatives are communicating well with the council.

“I believe that there is enough student oversight, in that college council and A.S. are having representatives and they are reporting back to college council and A.S.,” Hernandez said. “I have never fired someone from a committee. If I were to fire someone, it would have to be because they are not showing up to committee meetings.”

There are 44 committees total, ranging from the Transportation Policy Committee — at the center of a contentious debate this year over whether students should pay into the campus shuttle system — to the somewhat less divisive Tritonlink Advisory Committee.

The A.S. website states that committee representatives must “keep open communication and constant updates with the A.S. Vice-President of Student Life,” as well as report information back to the council — something both Hernandez and Gupta acknowledged current representatives don’t always do.

According to Hernandez, part of the difficulty in achieving full communication with these committees is their inconsistent meeting times.

“Certain committees meet once a week, [but] other committee representatives meet once a quarter, so they only check in with me once a quarter,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been having them e-mail me updates, and I’ve been really asking them to do it — but if they don’t, I don’t know what to say.”

Ben Hassine said the only way to avoid instances like the meal-plan increase — which passed in the HDH committee before it could be discussed by the council — is by making quarterly updates a mandatory part of serving as a student committee member.

“We should change the standing goals to say that representatives from different committees have to report back to council every week; if they don’t meet, then they can say ‘We didn’t meet,’” Ben Hassine said. “Additionally, if any big-ticket changes such as increases in rent or increases in dining dollars are being considered, I think the representatives should be required to make some king of formal report… not just an oral one during council.”

Ben Hassine was serving as an A.S. representative on the HDH Committee when it passed the meal-plan increase.

Westling said that appointees should not underestimate the effect that policies can have on campus life.

“You have UCAB, and HDH and the Transportation Policy Committees, specifically, and a couple others — they have a tremendous amount of power,” Westling said. “That’s probably one of A.S.’ most powerful avenues to protect student rights, is through these committee memberships.”

Readers can contact Hayley Bisceglia-Martin at [email protected] and Kashi Khorasani at [email protected]