ASA Lawsuit causes further division among state universities

 
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 BY GARY COLLINS —

At the Feb. 21 ASNAU senate meeting, a resolution was passed 9–2 expressing opposition to the recent lawsuit filed by the Associated Students of Arizona (ASA) against the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR).

“The Associated Students of Northern Arizona University has recognized that the money being spent on the lawsuit by student dollars does not align with the mission statement of access and affordability for Arizona students,” reads one portion of the resolution.

A similar resolution was defeated the previous day by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA) senate by a 6–4 vote. The night before, the Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) of UA voted unanimously to pass a resolution of support for the lawsuit filing.

This is the latest development taking place in a situation that began with the withdrawal of the student government leaders of three of the ASU campuses (Tempe, Polytechnic and Downtown) from ASA’s board of directors in September. ASU West campus’s student body president and vice-president refused to join.

Following this, the ASU Tempe student senate voted 25–2 on a non-binding resolution that withdrew their support from ASA and to reject the body’s representation for its students.

Mark Naufel, ASU Tempe student body president, and his senate, took issue with the structure of ASA. Their concern is ASA staff rather than the student leaders have too much say in the direction ASA takes.

“All year long, we haven’t been saying that this is an issue of getting rid of a statewide student voice,” Naufel said. “It’s an issue of restructuring, of creating a new organization that’s . . . using student money to support things that they disagree with.”

The support ASA gave for Proposition 204 — the proposition that would have extended the 1 percent sales tax to fund education — drew the most attention, coinciding with the stance of the ASU campuses actions.

The sum of these parts brought ABOR into the situation.

In December 2012, ABOR voted to suspend the non-mandatory $2 fee for this year’s spring semester. On Feb. 7, ABOR voted unanimously to change the fee model, allowing students to choose whether they wished to pay the fee. The old model collected the fee automatically but allowed students to opt out if they wished.

It was that decision that prompted ASA to file suit against ABOR. The suit alleges that ABOR’s decision is predicated on ASA’s support of Proposition 204, which, according to the allegation, is an attempt to stifle ASA’s right to free speech.

This decision to sue is what has brought the latest division among Arizona student governments and their leaders.  It is clear from discussion with some student leaders, the reading of meeting minutes of ASA and the ASNAU senate resolution that the decision to go forward with the suit was not formally approved or unanimously endorsed by the ASA directors.

The ASNAU resolution reads, in part: “The lawsuit was filed despite the fact that there was contention among the student board members of the Arizona Students’ Association; including the majority of the Northern Arizona University board members.”

“The ASNAU senate has said that they do not believe that this is an appropriate use of the student dollars that funds the Arizona Students’ Association,” said Sammy Smart, president of ASNAU.

While division now exists between ASNAU and the undergraduate and graduate student governments of UA, regarding the litigation, all still express support for ASA.

“I believe that the student board can continue to collectively and collaboratively work together for the students of Arizona,” Smart said.

The differences now existing, coming as they do with the current support all ASA directors have for the organization, is something they will have to work out.

Missing from the equation is the dissent and lack of support that exists from virtually all four ASU undergraduate campuses.

“It’s clear that this organization is not representing its student voice. My proof being that they are suing without the consent of ASU and NAU,” Naufel said.

 

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