ASUCI Senate rejected legislation last Tuesday that would have severed UCI’s ties to the University of California Student Association (UCSA).
UCSA is the only official coalition of students across the UC system and advocates for a broad range of issues. UCSA also helps host three system wide conferences — the UC Student Congress, the Students of Color Conference and the Student Lobby Congress — for students each year to strategize about how to organize effectively.
UCI left UCSA for the first time at the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, but rejoined officially at the end of the 2015-2016 year on the condition that the campus’s membership fees would be reduced. Several ASUCI executives expressed doubts about the organization at the beginning of the current academic year, citing higher membership fees and lack of support from UCSA as reasons to consider leaving.
The current legislation, R52-33, was authored by External Vice President Taylor Chanes and seconded by Student Services Vice President Jackson Chirigotis. Although Chanes first presented the legislation in February, the legislation was tabled for a vote until May 30 and was only previously discussed on May 23.
In a public comment, both Jose Santacruz and Zoe Broussard, who are national organizers within the Office of the External Vice President, spoke about the pros and cons of UCSA membership, as well as their personal experience with the organization.
While supporters of membership argue in favor of UCSA’s function as the collective voice of 240,000 students, as well as their three yearly lobbying conferences, detractors argue that these resources are not enough. Common complaints from those in favor of leaving UCSA include its high membership dues and lack of monetary and structural support for grassroots activism, especially at Southern California campuses.
“From my experiences from being able to sit on board at some meetings this year, it has shown me that there is not a lot of actual advocacy happening in these spaces,” Broussard said.
ASUCI paid $16,416.39 in membership fees to UCSA for the 2016-2017 school year, about half of the average amount. Last year, the fee was waived entirely, and ASUCI was granted temporary member status to entice them back into the organization. Prior to leaving the organization in 2014, ASUCI paid $28,880.79 annually.
Broussard, who was elected to serve as External Vice President for the 2017-2018 school year, stated that she would need the full-fledged support of ASUCI next year regardless of whether or not Senate voted to stay within the organization.
“I won’t be able to handle this alone. Today when we are discussing leaving UCSA we need to think about whether we want to invest our money — we will pay close to $30,000 — in this organization which really hasn’t done much for students in recent years or invest in local student [organizations] which are involved in heavy advocacy,” said Broussard. “I think that when we vote we need to have a very strong justification for whatever we decide on.”
Student Services Vice President Jackson Chirigotis also gave a public comment. Chirigotis stated that he agreed with many of the criticisms that Broussard and Santacruz had previously stated. He also expressed that ASUCI needs to hold UCSA accountable in some way for its failures to fight against the tuition hike and its general failure to seriously advocate for students over the course of the past year.
“The UCSA response [to a recent audit of the UC system] has proved that UCSA has not done enough for the UC students and continues to play it safe when the UC education is in jeopardy,” Chirigotis said. “There needs to be a greater accountability action and that is the withdrawal of fees.”
ASUCI President Tracy La stated that while she understood the desire to withdraw from UCSA, it is not necessarily a practical plan for next year.
“I completely agree with reasons we previously pulled out [in 2014] for the reasons everyone already talked about,” said La. “But [ASUCI] just passed a referendum, and we will be getting an extra $300,000 next year.”
Many Senators expressed their desire to remain in the organization during discussion, and the final vote was four votes to leave, sixteen to remain and one abstention from the president of the senate, who must abstain from voting.
In addition to Senator Joshua Scruggs and Senator Helary Yakub, External Student Advocate General Siddarth Baranwal and Legislative Affairs Co-Assistant Director Nikki Dalupang expressed the desire to stay within UCSA and work on communication with its board members rather than abandon it wholesale.