Absent Without Leave

    Every spring, students are inundated with hopeful future councilmembers promising to bring change to campus. But with  total absences nearing 400 this year alone, it’s clear that change needs to start within A.S. Council to keep its members accountable to their political parties and the student body.

    Seven members of council have accrued at least three unexcused absences so far, which is grounds for dismissal. The problem’s nothing new, and, unfortunately, neither is the punishment, which more often than not is simply a slap on the wrist. And considering that past councilmembers have been hesitant at best to impeach their peers, there is little reason to believe that this is the year that those shirking their responsibilities will face the rightful consequences.
    The all-star absentee this year is Arts and Humanities Senator Shunya Wade, coming in at a staggering 19.5 absences (council counts absences for various committee meetings and the second roll call at the end of Wednesday night meetings counts as half an absence). Coming in at a not-so-close second is Assistant Vice President of Student Organizations Carli Thomas, who has seven absences. Third is tied between Associate Vice President of Enterprise Operations Brian McEuen and Campuswide Senator Deyna Roberson, who each have six absences. Rounding out the bottom three are Sixth College Senator Kristian Castro (four), Campuswide Senator Jennifer Tzi (four), and Warren Senator Maclen Zilber (three and a half).

    As a whole, there have been 81 unexcused absences for the current council, with Wade representing nearly a quarter of the total. The number is astounding, considering that many of these students were elected with the expectations they would represent voters’ interests on council. Since they were elected with the expectation of championing a specific contingent’s views, their failure to show up ensures unfair representation and that A.S. Council is hardly a democratic body. Students’ opinions are ignored if there is no one there to voice them.

    Of course, there is an impeachment process. But it’s troubling that it occurs two-thirds through the term, allowing some to accrue more than double (some, sextuple) the limit of three unexcused absences before the issue’s even addressed.

    Further, the impeachment process is a byzantine method that often keeps abusers in power. After the advocate general submits impeachment notices for those over the limit, the council itself will vote on whether the member will be impeached. Abusers tell sob stories to sympathetic friends to retroactively excuse themselves, and the council must reach a two-thirds consensus to actually remove anyone from office. If somehow they get this far (and assuming they’re not absent), the A.S. Judicial Board will finally decide on their removal.

    Such a convoluted process ensures that most members will stay in office.

    And those are just the unexcused absences. A.S. members can have unlimited excused absences so long as a majority of the council approves them beforehand. While contesting the legitimacy of these excused absences is more trouble than it is worth, it is troubling to see, for example, that Biological Sciences Senator Daniel Liu has 35.5 excused absences. Or that Engineering Senator Adi Singer has 26. In total, this year’s council has racked up more than 300 excused absences.

    Article VI, Section 10 of the ASUCSD Constitution considers “failure to perform” duties an impeachable offense. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to see that someone who hasn’t attended meetings all quarter, excused or not, is not representing the people who elected her.

    All the more troubling is that many of these positions receive student-funded stipends. Associate Vice Presidents receive $3,500 per year and vice presidents $5,250. In fact, over $70,000 of the A.S. budget is allocated toward stipends for the Senate and Cabinet. This is admittedly a paltry sum from a total budget over $3 million, but if they don’t do their job, they don’t deserve to be paid.

    Given an environment of absenteeism, it is important to commend those representatives that do fulfill their duty. Social Sciences Senator Rena Zuabi has had no unexcused absences and her first absence for just half a meeting was only two weeks ago. And President Wafa Ben Hassine has zero unexcused absences, and only two excused, a vast improvement from when she qualified for impeachment last year.

    Council should seek to amend the Constitution immediately to put a limit to excused absences and impeach those who cross the threshold. Changing the vote from two-thirds to simple majority may also make it easier to impeach members.

    Moreover, an independent body should be in charge of impeachment, not those who are thoroughly incentivized to excuse absences. Stipends should be prorated so that those who miss meetings take a pay hit. When student leaders know there are no consequences of their delinquency, measures must be taken immediately to ensure that our elected representatives represent the student voice.

    Readers can contact Saad Asad at [email protected].

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