ASU presidents resign from ASA board positions in rebellion
In the past month, five ASU Directors of the Arizona Student Association (ASA) board resigned, citing, among other issues, their reluctance to allow $100,000 of ASA funds to be given in support of Prop 204, which would renew a one cent sales tax in attempts to fund education. There now exists a possibility of a student vote on ASU campuses as to whether students wish to continue to support ASA.
On Sept. 26, Mark Naufel, student government president of the Tempe campus of ASU, resigned from the Board of Directors of the ASA. Also resigning was Joseph Grossman, president of the ASU Downtown campus student hovernment, who was joined by his vice president of policy David Bakardjiev.
These two resignations were preceded by the Sept. 13 resignation of Jeffery Hebert, President of the ASU Polytechnics campus along with his vice president of policy Shauniece High.
These moves left ASU without representation on the ASA Board for three of its five campuses (ASU West’s campus had not taken an oath of office this year.) ASA still has representation from the ASU Vice President of Policy, Brendan Pantilione and its director Megan Riley, as well as Graduate and Professional Students’ Association Rhian Stotts and their VP of Policy, German Cadenas.
What sparked these resignations is the belief ASA is an outdated institution and that its activities are ineffective.
“For at least the last four years, ASU student leadership has been unhappy with the way the organization operates,” Naufel said. “For years they have tried to bring about change within the organization. Last year the presidents of each of the four campuses at ASU passed a vote, which basically said: ASA needs to make the changes we are bringing forward, or we are going to pull out and pursue a way to get our students’ money back.”
Another issue that led to the resignation of Naufel was while he was a Director of ASA he was forbidden by this oath of office to speak out against the organization.
“At the end of the day, the [estimated] $700,000 our universities pay annually to this organization goes directly to the staff, when we could be using it to directly benefit our students,” Naufel said. “We wanted to be open and honest with our students and wanted to see what they thought about where their money was going and if our students agreed with how it was being spent. Clearly the organization did not like this and this is when they emailed us stating that there were ramifications to the discussions we were having and that legal action could be taken against us. It soon became clear to us that there was no way we could be open and honest with our students while remaining on the board. The oath of office we took to ASA states, “notwithstanding any commitment to my university,” and it got to the point where ASA was standing in the way of my commitment to my students.”
Naufel received an email from ASA Executive Director Casey Dreher which stated: “The actions you want to take are your own and up to you to decide. I just want to ensure that you know the repercussions of each decision because I would hate for any of you to get into legal trouble where neither the university, nor ASA, could provide you with representation. So after this call, if you want to go forward ,that is your own decision but at least you will have been informed of the legal route to do it.”
In a statement to the Downtown Devil (ASU’s Downtown Campus online publication), Downtown President Grossman said, “All the undergraduate presidents unanimously agreed that the organization is not healthy and we need to resign. I think that says enough.”
What this means for NAU and its student’s is the possible loss of student fees ASA relies upon to further its mission to “make sure that higher education in Arizona is affordable and accessible by advocating to elected officials and running issue campaigns to engage students,” as stated in the ASA mission statement.
In the past ASA has lobbied to ensure Pell Grant funding was maintained at maximum levels. It was slated to be reduced and ASA efforts saved 581 NAU students from losing their Grants and many students from losing $800 per year. ASA further defeated a bill (HB 2675 Minimum Tuition Bill) which would have required all students to pay $2,000 per year, out of pocket, without the use of scholarships or grants.
In 1989, ASA proposed and won passage of the Arizona Financial Aid Trust, which distributed more than $14 million dollars to Arizona students in 2009-2010 alone.
Yet, if ASU is successful, these and numerous other programs would no longer exist.
NAU Student President Sammy Smart spoke at the Oct. 4 ASNAU meeting concerning the conflict.
“What they’re doing right now is they are going to start a campaign for a referendum and were probably thinking, in the next two weeks, this referendum will hit and what it is going to be is them asking their students to vote against ASA,” Smart said. “If this referendum passes and their students don’t support ASA, and don’t support this two dollar fee, it’s mostly likely going to be taken. We’re thinking their game plan is to take it to the Board of Regents at our December meeting. At that time, the Board of Regents will look over it and see if this fee is really beneficial to students.”
When questioned on this Naufel told the Lumberjack, via email, “At this point I have not taken a stance for or against ASA and neither has our student senate. I simply have resigned to bring to light many of the issues and flaws of the organization. I have put together a report which the Senates of ASU and UA are reviewing and, it is my hopes, that the NAU Senate will do the same. The ASU Senate is currently doing an investigation of necessity of ASA at our university and I will honor the decision they come to.”
To this he added, “At this time, I am not sure whether or not a referendum will be called. Our senate might say everything is fine and ask me to swear back onto the board; they might suggest changes to be made to the organization; they might decide that ASA is not beneficial to our students and call for a referendum or maybe some other option. At the end of the day, it will be the senate’s decision.”
At the NAU Senate meeting Smart said, “Oregon [McDiarmid, ASNAU Senator], because he is very familiar with Arizona’s Student Association, has put together a resolution that will be taken to the legislative committee tonight . . . but before that comes to senate next week I want you to make sure you are educated to what’s going on to make sure you are taking an educated stance for or against ASA.”
The decision by the ASA Board of Directors decision at their June board meeting to take $100,000 out of their reserve funds and put it towards passage of Prop 204 is what is considered largely the precipitant of this current crisis. The measure was passed with the unanimous support of all ASA directors, including those directors named above who resigned.
“I actually support Prop 204,” Naufel said. “I think this is the common misconception going around. Although I support Prop 204, I do not agree with how ASA forced ASU to vote the way they wanted last year and the way they influence votes year after year. I also do not think that our student fee money should be used on political campaigns that many students may not agree with. Looking back I would have voted different. That vote took place at the first meeting we ever had as a board, and you have the executive director in the room telling you that if you don’t vote for this, all the students’ money spent on this initiative will have been in vain and if you don’t vote for this you are against students and education. I think that is where a lot of our concerns with the organization are, the fact that this long-term staff oversees a board of student directors which change every year. This gives staff way too much control and influence over the organization. I don’t just mean this in regards to Prop 204, but everything that happens within the organization.”
This last issue, ASA’s support of Proposition 204 and its $100,000 donation to the campaign, has also drawn the attention of The Goldwater Institute. In a report critical of ASA and its support of Prop 204, the Goldwater Institute questioned the legality of ASA’s actions and said it was considering legal action. The report based much of its information on the word of Joshua Holt, former President of ASU Polytechnics’ Campus. While they did interview Casey Dreher, ASA Executive Director, they did not reach out to any of the NAU directors to get their side of the story, according to President Smart.
The senate meeting drew to a close with words from ASNAU Faculty Advisor Dr. Rick Brandel, who stated he was saddened students were battling other students, sought to offer this advice: “So I guess I would say to you, as a Student Affairs Administrator who believes in the value of this student voice and the work that we do, it’s important for you to at least think about and work with your colleagues at the other institution.”