USAC: A Student Organization out of Touch with Students

By Owen Braudrick

The most fundamental problem with student government at UCLA is its inability to reach out and connect with the student body. The Undergraduate Student Association Council, more commonly referred to as USAC, has 15 elected seats. In previous years, USAC elections have had voter participation rates as low as 9%. There exists a blatant disconnect between this political organization and the student body. Many students could not tell you what USAC is or what they do on the UCLA campus. The lack of engagement between USAC and the student body is due to the fact that most students neither see nor feel the impacts of the decisions made by the organization. This results in consistently low turnout rates, and in previous years, unfilled seats on the USAC board. USAC consistently falls short on students’ needs and fails to provide in areas that affect students. 

Part of this disconnect falls on USAC. Outside of elected officials, USAC includes “appointed representatives of the Administration, the Alumni, and the Faculty.” USAC members also sit on the Academic Senate Committee along with a variety of other high-level boards on campus. The organization puts on an assortment of large events throughout the year ranging from concerts coordinated by the Campus Events Commission to the Off-Campus Housing Fair put on by the Internal Vice President. 

This results in a lack of cohesion within USAC.

The USAC representatives find themselves in the pursuit of far too dissimilar issues throughout the organization. When an individual runs for a position, they focus their platform on a few key issues. They tend to try and differ their core issues from other opponents in order to draw in more votes. Once an official is elected, they are constrained when it comes to addressing additional problems. The outcome of this is that each elected official is now pushing for their individual platforms, without much help from other elected officials. Because of the way the quarter system works, fall and winter are where policy crafting and implementation is conducted. When spring quarter comes, it again becomes time to create new platforms and begin campaigning.

Usually, not much more than menial change can be created in the two-quarter season of action. In recent years, these changes have been policies such as those that lowered the cost of laundry on the hill, changing the price from $2.75 to $1.75. Additionally, USAC worked to make blue books and scantrons free for the 2019-2020 school year. Although these policies affect students, they are trivial compared to the $13,226 for in-state tuition and $42,218 for out-of-state tuition that students must pay every year. USAC continues to fail students by additionally not addressing the many problems that have plagued the UCLA greek system for years. Lowering laundry prices and making paper school supplies free fails to solve the core institutional problems that affect students.

Even when USAC is able to pass practical policies, it’s unlikely that students give them the credit they deserve. The organization has been the main proponent in creating a more sustainable composting system on the hill, and they also fought to make sure students could take classes pass/no pass when Covid-19 moved classes online. These decisions, although not on the forefront, have had lasting beneficial impacts on the student body. Problematically, the average student does not attribute these decisions to USAC. Instead, the student body tends to pass these off as policies passed by the university, disregarding USAC’s role in their creation.

More recently, USAC saw a spike in their voter participation. This increase in voting was predominantly due to the contentions surrounding the candidates along with the somewhat controversial Cultivating Unity for Bruins, or CUB, referendum which was placed on the ballot. Students pay $87.42 every quarter in fees towards funding USAC and their events. When students began to do some digging weeks before the election, it became evident to the public that some USAC elected officials are stipended around $10,000 a year for their services. These discussions heightened in light of CUB, which would be on the upcoming election ballot. This act would increase student fees by $15.00 per quarter and $9.00 during summer sessions to address “the lack of space, resource, and programming” needs of students from “underrepresented and marginalized communities” on campus. Students flocked to the r/UCLA Reddit expressing irritation about an increase in student fees when USAC had only expended a small portion of their 2019-2020 budget, leaving millions underutilized.

On April 14th the USAC meeting via Zoom saw drastically higher student attendance (as compared to the 30-75 views USAC receives on their weekly) than usual. Students voiced a variety of questions and concerns regarding the CUB referendum. Candidate-bashing ensued as USAC members openly attacked one another over their opinions on CUB. After the meeting, many of USAC’s members, including president Robert Watson, utilized social media to unprofessionally scrutinize specific members. As election season progressed, students expressed irritation on platforms such as Reddit and Twitter when they found out members of the USAC elections board had used student money to pay actors and actresses to encourage students to vote in the upcoming elections. 

All this controversy only continues to deter USAC’s credibility in properly representing students on campus. For those that are interested in participating in USAC, this series of immature decisions only make them consider whether it is worth their time. The organization is supposed to be the most politically professional group of students on campus yet, their members’ actions in the most recent election make that seem less than likely.

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