Neesby's proposal for USAC seenate continues in new academic year

By Melinda Dudley
Published September 25th 2005 in Daily Bruin
Planning programs, campaigning and advocating on behalf of students is nothing new to undergraduate student government. But this year, one councilmember is aiming to redesign student government itself.

Last winter and spring, Brian Neesby, now a general representative on the Undergraduate Students Association Council, attempted to get the senate system approved and installed prior to last spring's elections. His efforts to get the proposal to a referendum vote were unsuccessful at that time, although the campaign is being revamped and renewed in hopes of getting the proposal through this year.

USAC, in its current form, is comprised of 13 elected representatives: three executive members, three general representatives and seven commissioners. The officers are elected by a majority vote of undergraduate students.

UCLA is the only school in the University of California system without a legislative body in its undergraduate student government.

The senate proposal would create a student government consisting of 5 executive members, 7 non-voting commissioners and a 20-member senate. Voting would be done via a complicated system called the Hare system of proportional representation, which would eliminate the need for run-off elections.

Under the Hare system, voters would rank candidates for a position in order of preference, using what is called a single transferable vote. Any candidate who receives the minimum threshold of votes (which in the 20-member senate would be 5 percent), is automatically elected. Future votes for that candidate will be transferred to the voter's second choice, and so on until all seats are filled.

While the voting system is complex, Neesby said he feels it is the most representative system in existence, and would allow the preferences of all students to be best reflected in student government bodies.

"The current system really isn't fair," said Andy Botros, Neesby's constitutional review director. "If you have a 55 percent vote for one group, and a 45 percent vote for another group, that way the government should be representative."

Botros criticized the current council's majoritarian voting system, which allows slates to take a majority of seats and dominate council affairs when they have the support of only slightly more than half of voting undergraduates.

"We have a system right now that usually favors kind of a one-party system; it is not very deliberative in nature. More diversity in opinion is always better, it allows more voices to be heard in the room, more people to be involved in student government," Neesby said.

The senate system would allow for the viewpoints and opinions to be voiced and represented in student government, Neesby said. The proposal is designed to create a better student government for all UCLA students, not just those who share his goals, he added.

However, opponents of the system cite the common belief that larger-scale government creates larger-scale inefficiencies.

"When you bring a lot of students into the system a lot of things get watered out and nothing gets done," said cultural affairs commissioner Todd Hawkins. "Creating a separate system would just complicate things a lot more than they are now in council."

Supporters of the senate system freely admit that changing the structure of undergraduate student government isn't a simple task, and certainly hasn't been in the past.

"It's going to be hard – it's not going to be easy to get it passed," Botros said.

The measure, like all constitution and bylaw changes for the Undergraduate Students Association, requires a two-thirds vote of council.

Bruins United, the slate that strongly supports the senate system and campaigned in part under its auspices, holds council majority but not supermajority. Councilmembers from the other slate on council, Student Power!, or political independents would have to vote in support of the change for it to be approved through USAC.

However, if the proposal cannot be pushed through council, Neesby is willing to initiate a second attempt to go directly to the student body with a referendum vote.

One major point of contention among current councilmembers with the senate proposal is the depoliticizing of the commissions.

Commissioners are worried about the possibility of losing their vote, and beyond that, losing control of their own funding, which would decrease the efficiency of their organizations.

Hawkins fears that depoliticizing the commissions will leave them "not being able to have our voice heard or being able to speak up on behalf on the students."

Commissioners need the power of the vote for them to work most effectively with the administration, he said.

Neesby said those working on the campaign are looking into the best way to keep the commissions independent and give them assurances on the stability and control of their budgets.

"We want the commissions to be an efficacious part of the government, but depoliticize them," he said.

Ultimately, the goal of the senate proposal is to get more democratic representation in student government, without sacrificing efficiency, Botros said.

"You can't say no to that, right?"