Check on use.

November 10, 2009

Does anyone continue to check this blog and would it have a point to continue to write? Suggestions would be helpful.

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“The Lounge” goes live.

May 6, 2009

Starting last week Tom and Sol will be taking their antics to the airwaves.  “The Lounge” is now a Friday morning talk show at 6:00 AM on Madison’s Student Radio 91.7 FM WSUM.

Last week the topics centered on Mifflin, the Madison Initiative, and Associated Students of Madison with special guest Former Student Services Finance Committee Chairman Carl Fergus.

Topics for our next shows will be focused on the big news of that day and (hopefully) other guests will be able to get up and join us. Stay Tuned!

You can listen in the Madison area on 91.7 FM or online from WSUM’s website.

You can join the facebook group here for updates and information.

Question?

February 26, 2009

The night the constitution failed, Jeff Wright stopped by my house.  And as he, Brittany, Sol, and I sipped bourbon and discussed the failures of the campaign, he suggested that we could try to pull in the vote no crowd and reauthor the document to give them more confidence that this document would not jeopardize their funding.

At the time, I discounted this, saying the student body would not have much patience for these antics.  Even if we got the support from most of the vote no crowd, I doubt that we would win over all of them.  Even if the funding issues were resolved, there a seemingly irreconcilable difference over how ASM should be organized. While a round 2 vote no group might be smaller,  I felt that any indication that there was not consensus on this document would try the patience of the student body and likely lead it a repeated failure, a coffin nail of sorts.

However, Smather’s editorial has raised the question again…. If revisions were made which reintroduced timelines on the funding code, reduced the executive influence on budgets, etc., and if ASM was able to get GSSF groups to endorse the changes, do you think the student body would go for it?

What about if it was delayed until the fall elections of next year.  This would stop the rollout for another year.  But that could give more time for working through bylaws, etc. Thoughts?

Accountability and the future of ASM

February 25, 2009

The election is over and everything is back to how it was.  By this point, both the vote yes and vote no crowds are probably sobering up.

The question remains: What is to be done with ASM?

The Badger Herald suggests disbanding it, but this would not be in the best interest of the student.

While I find the speculation of what went wrong interesting, I feel like one point is not being discussed.  When it comes down to it, this was not a referendum on the old constitution versus the new constitution.  I think we all agree that 99% of those who voted had not read either.  This was a referendum on people.

The “Vote Yes” group represented current ASM leadership.  They provided the constitution as a component of a larger reform package. This was a package at least preliminarily drawn up by Brittany, Jeff, Kurt, and me.

On the other side, the “Vote No” group also provided a message of reform.  While their solution was to vote no to the constitution changes, their message was still one of change.  Essentially, they said: ASM needs to reform, just not like this.  It is not the structure that is wrong, its the people. One would assume that if the current leadership were the wrong people, then they would be the right people, or at least they know who the right people are.

In this election, it was a referendum between two groups with different reform packages.  The student body voted for the “Vote No” platform.  I think it is now important that the “Vote No” people are brought into student government so they can work their magic. They can’t simply run a progressive slate and get a couple people elected, the “Vote No” coalition should be responsible for the student government.

The current ASM leadership tried to spearhead the most comprehensive reforms that ASM has ever seen.  They invested countless hours into these reforms, but the “Vote No” people thought they could do a better job.  If they do not step up now and take the reins of ASM, they will have destroyed ASM’s opportunity to reform for nothing.

In other words, the “Vote No” coalition must be accountable for their campaign.  They cannot simply walk away now.  They must provide the reforms they have promised.

I do not harbor any hard feelings towards the “Vote No” side.  They won the election fair and square.  They were able to convince more students that they had a better plan for the campus, and I am enthusiastic to see this plan in action.

I think it is important that within the next few days, they come out with their plan to reform ASM.  Last year we provided our 5 steps.  I strongly encourage them to let us on their big plans.  However, I worry that they might not be considering everything right now.

So, I am going to take some time to explain some of the challenges and imperatives involved with reforming ASM.

-Structure:

The first challenge you are going to have is to reconcile a structure that is inherently contradictory.  You must figure out how to mesh the broad open system of the campaign model with the hierarchical leadership necessary to run the seg fee system.  To better understand the dichotomy of these organizational models, I suggest reading, The Starfish and the Spider, by Brafman and Beckstrom.  I think the book does a good job reflecting on the different tendency of these leadership models.

Essentially what you will find is that ASM has two distinct organizational charts (not the one on the website, but in practice).  You must find a way to reconcile an activist entity which looks like this:

decentralized1

with a financial wing that looks like this:

centralized1

While the outside media tear into ASM for not working on important issues, not being in tune with the student body, etc. (which may all be true), I believe these diagrams sum up the biggest obstacle for ASM, something I have asserted for a long time.

Let me explain.  The challenge for ASM leadership is to create an organization grounded grassroots mobilization necessary to enact change while providing constant and reliable support for student organizations.  This duality presents numerous challenges:

  1. Internally, the dynamic in ASM as always been isolating for the “closed” committee chairs.  Because half the leadership is informed by a grassroots mentality, while the other half is trying to work with organizational structure, these two sets of leaders have little to work together one.  Last year, my biggest frustration was the inability to get any long-term strategic planning.  After complaining for most of the year about the need to think about the long term ambitions of the organization, I was finally granted an hour during a Coordinating Council retreat to help lead the group in some planning.  However, the grassroots committee chairs soon revolted and my session ended early with nothing accomplished.  As hard as we tried to bridge this chasm, there is simply a different set of values which inform these groups.
  2. If you favor the activism side too much, you will alienate the finance part of ASM. Until this year, under Brittany, the finance sector has always been segregated from the daily workings of ASM.  I think things have drastically improved this year because Brittany came from the finance perspective and much of the organization as a whole has moved to a more hierarchical design (cumbersomely, given the structure). Diversity committee has gone from an open to closed group.  Campus relations was replaced with the press shop. Legislative affairs is essentially defunct. And while Academic Affairs is doing well, a lot of duty of advocating on academic issues has been championed by leadership.
  3. I think this election has shown the tight-rope ASM must walk when dealing with student organizations.  On one hand, grassroots activism is anchored in the ability to form coalitions.  On the other hand, groups are often suspicious of forming coalitions with the people who control their budgets.  It is hard when you are the “Man” to truly gain the trust of groups.
  4. This system fosters programmatic redundancies.  Because you are advocating on issues that often dealt with by student organizations, you tend to repeat things which are already being done.  Case in point: Diversity Committee.  Before this year, ASM felt it was important to advocate on issues of campus climate and inclusion.  This meant that many of the things done by diversity committee could have been better preformed by other groups on campus. It was only by closing diversity committee and inserting it into a governmental hierarchy that these issues were addressed.  By opening it back up, you run the risk of reenacting these redundancies.
  5. Administration: The question of how to deal with university administration is extremely challenging for ASM.  On most subjects, the administration will be more of an ally than a foe.  They are not a profit driven bunch and in general, they want what is best for students.  The better the relationship you build with the administration, the more successful you will be.  While this is true all around, it is an imperative when dealing with segregated fees.  This system requires a lot of nuanced accounting and specialized issue management.  If your SSFC chair does not have allies in the university administration, your budgets are doomed.  This being said, you still need to stand up for students when the student position is at odds with the administration.  The challenge is using the correct mixture of tactics which will allow you to win on student issues while not alienating the allies you have in the administration.  This will be partly decided by what issues you decide to take up.  Remember though, the actions of your grassroots wing will reflect on your finance wing, even if they are unrelated.

You are going to find this balance to be untenable and time consuming.  While your objective may be to resort more resources to advocacy, it will significantly damage your capacity to provide services.  This of course is a value question that must be considered.

-Student democracy:

ASM does not constitute a democracy.  Currently, students are elected by mobilizing their friends to vote.  Issues are not discussed during elections.  Obviously, one of the hopes of the presidential system was to address this very issue.  As we saw during this election, when there is a simple choice (either A or B) students can be mobilized to vote.  While 15% is not a stellar number, it certainly represents an improvement over previous elections.  My feeling is that if it were actual candidates with easy to digest platforms (and not a complex constitution) even more student could be mobilized to vote.  While I know that slates have been attempted in the past, these informal parties are not nearly as effective for providing clear options.

Student democracy is important for a number of reasons:

  1. It is good to have student input into how the government is run.  This makes a difference for the campaigns that are conducted and how seg fees are managed.
  2. Democracy would bring new ideas into ASM.  Historically ASM has suffered from the staleness of ideas.  Students are recruited young to be interns, then move up to leadership.  The only leadership ASM ever gets is career ASMers.  This does not provide a lot of opportunity for people with outside experiences to have access to the decision making apparatus of the organization.
  3. On a related note, the lack of democracy means ASM fails to attract talented leaders from across campus.  Ideally student leaders from organizations would see the opportunity to serve in ASM as a step up.  However, a position on ASM holds no status.  As a result, ASM’s ability to recruit talent is stifled.

We felt a presidential system would address many of these issue.  I look forward to hear the solutions you come up with.

-ASM Staff:

ASM staff are a blessing.  They provide the closest thing we have to institutionalized memory.  They are true believers in student rights.  However, it also means you have another stakeholder to work with.  This can prove tricky when trying to reform the organization in a way that is not within the current paradigm of staff.  You need to be able to talk about your decisions and justify them, because their jobs are tied into this organization.

For a better idea of where staff will be coming from, make sure to bone up on Saul Alinsky and Ed Chambers, esp: Roots for Radicals.  This provides the foundation for their organizing philosophy.  I am not sure if you prescribe to Alinsky or Midwest Academy.  Either way, it is helpful to know where your staff is coming from.

Also remember that because ASM hires 9 full-time staff and dozens of student staff, you are also going to have to have competent HR.

-Student Council:

Student council is a mess.  Brittany has made great strides in improving the body and retaining members, but by far in away this is the most defunct entity in ASM. The first thing you will have to do is define a purpose for Student Council.  This becomes complex because having an elected body of students does not mesh well with the decentralized grassroots map I provided earlier. A few pieces of advice about SC:

  • They will not be your activist core.  Students run for SC because they want to make decisions, not because they want to be another link in the activism front.  I am sure that you have some people you will run who have this activist spirit. More power to you.  Those who do not will not be satisfied by their time on SC and will quit.
  • SC members are largely unqualified to make a lot of the decisions that are presented to them.  If student council has ever made had a situation where someone has not spouted off a blatantly non-VPN statement during a budget proceeding, it is only because they passed the budget without discussion.  No matter how many times they are trained, it is never enough.
  • Student Council is in desperate need of some staff time.  Currently the chair of ASM is expected to do all the development for Student Council.  (This is one reason that it has failed so badly)  Student Council truly needs a staff member devoted to it.   Brittany and others are currently moving the vacant campus organizer position to one that deals with SC.  However, this means you have fewer organizers.  (I guess that will be your call to make)

-Lastly, Seg fees:

Segregated fees are a mess.  I do believe that things have gotten better over the last two years.  I, and later Kurt, was working to phase in some much needed reforms, but they are far from complete. However, with both of us out of the organization, I fear that these reforms will slowly disappear.

As my earlier post states, the GSSF is untenable.  If left to its own devices, I do not see how it is sustainable.  This is why it is imperative to diversify student funding.  I cannot understand why we want to fund so many diverse organizations but rely on such a monolithic funding apparatus.

If we continue the standard that all big groups are tracked into the GSSF, I think we will lose it.  With the Southworth decision, it is nearly impossible to use only one funding stream to fund all the groups you want appropriately and keep control of the stream.  I don’t think ASM has ever had control over the growth in the GSSF.  It simply had not grown large enough to be problematic (until it hit $3.6 M three years ago).

If this is allowed to repeat itself, I believe you will jeopardize all the groups which helped you in this election.

So what do I mean by diversifying the fund.  Well, create more funding streams:

  • I created the ancillary fund to give ASM to the capacity to deal with long-term (in student-world, anything longer than a year) financial obligations.  ASM has invested a million dollars in capital into the WSUM tower.  We write multi-year contracts with Rape Crisis Center and Madison Metro.  This gave us an easy way to fit these budgets together.
  • College council funding stream: Currently ASM does not do an adequate job serving its constituents in non-L&S colleges.  Many of these colleges have established their own councils to give students in those colleges opportunities get involved and plan programming specific to their college or school.  However, these organizations do not have cash.  This is why CALS SC and Polygon both consistently look to the GSSF for funding.  These are very different from a GUTS organization.  To keep the fund consistent, provide these groups funding through an alternative stream.  It will allow you to build relations with these other colleges, promote student activities for students not in L&S, and expand the reach of student government.  Since student power if rooted in numbers, this will help you reach out to other schools and get more numbers.
  • Centers: CWC, LGBTCC (when it was a group), Wunk Sheek, MEChA, and WCSU look similar in that they provide safe space and programming around issues of underrepresented minorities.  I think that you could capitalize on this similarity and create a stream which could provide funding for their unique needs.  Rather than pretending that they look like GUTS or ALPS, this will allow them to be treated like centers.  You can use the exact same budgets as you do for GSSF groups, if you want, but you can change the criteria to fit these particular types of services.
  • Activism: WISPIRG and CFACT certainly don’t fit the mold either.  Neither of them fit the current GSSF criteria.  Instead a fund could be created that emphasizes the importance of internship opportunities.

You might look at this list and imagine seg fees sky-rocketing, but these are all groups that we currently fund. We just don’t deal with them well.  This makes eligibility unwarrantably painful.  If it was split into several different funding streams, the student government would have far more control to set criteria which are exclusive, identifying unique characteristics in groups, and then formulating funding mechanisms to provide for these unique needs.

Secondly, you must make every effort to keep SSFC as nonpartisan as you can.  The members of SSFC must see their role as stewards of segregated fees, not agents for particular groups.  If we go back to those days, it will make things more difficult for groups and the committee at large.  Please work to make SSFC more nonpartisan.

Lastly, you need to deal with ASM’s structural deficit.  Because of years of over-allocating (or under-spending) ASM has accrued a pretty severe structural deficit.  ASM currently has four budgets: ASM Internal, GSSF, Ancillary, and Bus Pass.  ASM Internal and GSSF both have sizable structural deficits.  This puts your seg fee ability at the whim of group spending.  If groups decide to spend all their money one year (even if you don’t budget more for the next year) seg fees will sky-rocket.  This lack of control endangers your ability to think long term and strategically about how seg fees impact student expenses.  It also means that you may unintentionally exceed system-established thresholds, because groups spend more than usual.  To address this, you must do a combination of these three things:

  1. Do a better job allocating the money that groups will use,  so there is not a significant amount left over at the end of the year.  (This might also mean putting more pressure on groups to follow through with what they promised)- The same applies for ASM’s budgets.
  2. Cut the amount budgeted without cutting the current seg fee rate.
  3. Increase the current seg fee rate at an amount larger than necessary.

I have racked my brains trying to think of a tactful way to handle this one.  Good luck.

Well, I am sure this is enough for you to ponder for now.  I look forward to hearing your initiatives.  If you would like to talk more about anything here, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I want to be as helpful as possible as you manage this transition.

Best of luck.

-ag

What was accomplished?

February 24, 2009

So, the results are in and the campus spoke:  a resounding “no” on the ASM constitution.  Prehabs we should view this as a mandate from the masses, “More of the same!”  I still cannot get over the fact that on a campus with so much contempt for student government, so many people would not want to change.  We will remain the only school in the UW system without a presidential system.  We will continue to lag behind peer institutions like Berkeley, Ohio State, and UCLA.  While a presidential system certainly has not shown favorable at every school (think Milwaukee), our success rate is not much better.

I guess the question I am left asking is, “What was accomplished?” Do students think that this will be a wake up call for current ASM leadership to do something new.  I don’t think it was conveyed enough that all of ASM leadership (Save the SSFC Vice Chair) was in favor of this constitution.  All of the people on campus who were familiar with trying to get things done in the current system were ready to try something new.  But the constitution was nevertheless defeated.  I am sure that others will spend time analyzing how this happened.  I am sure ASM could have campaigned better or built better coalitions.  However, the fact of the matter remains that nothing was accomplished by defeating this document.

I know that the vote no people plan on running for ASM.  I encourage them.  However, I will be watching to see how things improve.  I will be interested if GSSF groups find this more condusive.  We will see what the final fate of the GSSF will be.  That is for them to figure out.  I would just warn them that they have inhereted a batter and brutalized organization.  The onus is now on them to recessitate it.  We have tried and the campus said no.  I wish you all luck.

The constitution debate

February 24, 2009

In recent days, the debate over the ASM constitution has become increasingly heated.  The blogosphere has also gotten in on the fun. (CB and Forward thinking) Accusations and ad hominem attacks have begun to characterize both sides.

Here is a recent email sent out by PAVE:

Defend Student Rights!

Vote NO on the new ASM Constitution!

Monday (from 8AM) and Tuesday (until 9PM)

https://asm.uwsc.wisc.edu/election/election.php


Why vote NO?

~~The creation of a powerful executive that will transfer power away from student committees~~
~~A centralization of power that will increase the likelihood of cronyism and corruption~~
~~Jeopardizing the funding of student organizations through the presidential veto and removal of waiting periods for changes in the financial code~~
~~Increased bureaucracy and greater inefficiency in enacting budgets~~
~~A destruction of the grassroots framework of ASM in favor of a top-down system~~


We need real reform in ASM.

The problem with our student government is not its structure, but its current leadership.


And it goes on… But the most noticeable phrase is this last clause.

The problem with out student government is not its structure, but its current leadership.

I guess I find it sad that we have such a short memory.  I would never claim that ASM is perfect.  I think that it has many flaws.  However, I find it almost nauseating for groups which I believe have benefited from the dividends of competent leadership to demonize the current leadership because they are unhappy with the constitution.

I first came to ASM in the fall of 2006.  I was appointed to SSFC not having any idea of what a seg fee even was.  In my first meeting on the committee, it became very obvious that there was a deep chasm which divided the committee down the middle.  On one side there were those who disliked segregated fees in any form and would vote no whenever they got the chance.  On the other side was the group fighting for each dollar GSSF groups asked for.

I have to admit that my first year, I felt a little lonely.  While I certainly saw the value in what these groups were doing, I also felt it was my fiduciary responsibility to look at each request critically.  I guess current GSSF groups don’t remember this, but fights were vicious.  We spent hours (and I mean hours) fighting over the number of condoms Sex Out Loud should receive.  I wasted another evening of my life arguing about planners for MCSC.  The content of debate was nonconstructive and unsubstantial.  Here we had a committee sitting on $7 million of allocable segregated fees and they spent hours arguing about complete insubstantial items.  It was insulting to the groups which presented and it was insulting to me as a committee member.

Around this same time, the rent debacle started.  I would think that PAVE would remember how ASM leadership, and MCSC (making Elton cry!)  worked to ensure that these groups had space.  In fact, SSFC was personally fronting the bill for PAVE’s space until they moved into the SAC.  But I digress.  I could write a missive on the rent debacle, which would not be constructive at this time.  In summary, the University, armed with a memo from System Legal, decided to forbid segregated fees from paying for rent in non-university buildings.  Reversing years of common practice, this memo argued that using segregated fees for non-university facilitates was inconsistent with 36.09(5) and the statutory history. However, ASM at that time was completely capitulating to the administration.  They did not have the capacity or insight to defend segregated fees, one of its primary functions.  It was only in a last minute ditch effort to stand up to this dictum that we started to address this issue.  An unlikely coalition, composed of ASM, WISPIRG, CFACT, MCSC, and a few others, formed to address this decision.  Ironically, our biggest opponent at the time was former SSFC Chair Zach Frey.  Until this point, SSFC had basically rolled over on this issue.

It was around this same time that Patrick McLeod was running wild with shared governance.  They were hardly filling seats, people would attend meetings, they did not even keep minutes at their own meetings.  In sum, shared governance was a mess.

So, quick summary: It is the January 2007 and:

  1. SSFC is bitterly partisan and spends hours fighting over mundane items
  2. Shared governance is a mess.  People were not being appointed to committees and the process was tainted by cronyism.
  3. ASM would not advocate for the defense of students’ rights in the segregated fee system.  Even worse, the SSFC chair was advocating for the administration.

I have just recently learned that by the Spring of 2007, Coordination Council stopped meeting.  They would not even have meetings between the central leadership of ASM.  While this semester is easily remembered by the victory of the study day campaign, the truth was that ASM was seriously dysfunctional.

I was almost gleeful when I resigned to go to Russia.  And during my four months in Russia, SSFC was one of the furthest things from my thoughts.  I am not sure why I decided to run again for SSFC.  Maybe I thought I could make it better.  I do know that I did not intend on running for leadership.  However, when the election results where in and the only person I recognized on SSFC was Katrina Flores, I decided that sitting on a committee with incompetent leadership would simply be a repeat of the previous year.  So, from Russia, I ran for chair.

Narrowly defeating Kurt Gosselin for the chairship, I returned to Madison to continue the battle around rent and to try to make my experience on SSFC this year a little better than the previous year. The first thing I got to was learning how the system worked.  The rent debacle was still in full swing and when I took over the reins of SSFC, we were moving into mediation with the Chancellor at the system level.  While ruffling through documents, in the pile left by my predecessor, I discovers a letter from Chancellor Wiley.

Essentially, the letter said that the Chancellor had been concerned with the direction of the segregated fee system for many years.  If the process continued like it has, he does not see a future for the GSSF.   The rumors at the time had similarly suggested that the Chancellor was considering abolishing the GSSF.  In light of the UWRCF lawsuit, the two Southworth decisions  (a few years earlier) and an annual growth rate of nearly 20%, the Chancellor did not feel that such a system was able to continue as it historically had.

While I am sure that the Vote No people would declare any move of this nature to be a blatant violation of student rights (a position I am certainly sympathetic with) the fact of the matter is, I would much rather have student look at the system internally than to receive another edict that destroyed the system. If that edict were to come, I would be on the front lines fighting it, but I could not guarantee victory.

While the problems with the segregated fee system are numerous, the overarching problem with the GSSF was that there was nothing that really distinguished a GSSF group from the rest of campus.  The variety of groups funded in this stream made it nearly impossible to make consistent evaluations on whether groups should get into the stream or not.  This is why SSFC had an awful record in SJ.  In fact, most cases did not make it SJ because SSFC was too scared and would reconsider and approve groups.

Now, I feel that this basic premise is where many people, both on the right and left, misinterpret our objective. (I say our because Katrina played an equally important role in encouraging this shift of ideology) From the both sides, this was interpreted as a move to eliminate groups and lower seg fees.  (I can get to the issue of  seg fee rates later, but allocable seg fees went up when I was in office, actually at a higher rate than necessary)

The rationale was that seg fees, and the GSSF in particular, facilitate a lot of important activities on campus.  The services provides by groups such as CWC, Vets for Vets, MCSC, GUTS, ALPS, and others are essential for enhancing student life.  For example, on most campus the administration runs the Women’s Center, and veteran’s counseling, they run the tutoring services and fund most of the multicultural programing.  At Wisconsin, we were unique because we essentially delegated these functions to student groups who could provide far better programming and services to students at a fraction of the cost.

It would be tragic if this capacity was lost. However, the proliferation of the GSSF put all these groups in danger.  The last thing we wanted was to fight for the continuation of these basic services.  However, the GSSF was now flooded with groups like CALS Student Council, Engineers Without Borders and others.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I have unbelievable respect for these groups and I think that there programming is worthy of receiving segregated fee support.

But I don’t think they provide a service in the same manner as the aforementioned groups.  And the list did not stop there.  More and more groups were applying and because the criteria were so unspecific about what constituted a GSSF group, almost all these groups, with rare exception, were granted eligibility.  While the segregated fee system had the capacity to fund truly service oriented groups at a rate which GSSF groups were funded, we could not support this proliferation.

So, Katrina and I tried to change the tenor of SSFC.  We tried to turn the dialogue from one of fiscal responsibility vs. group support (should we fund condoms or not fund condoms) to one of sustainability.  The objective was to create a fund that could last.  This fund would require criteria which were specific enough to define what should and should not be in there.

This meant we had to be more creative with how we look at funding.  We could no longer say, “Ok, big groups should go to the GSSF and small groups to finance committee.” (ASM’s old mantra).  Now we looked at service.  If it didn’t fit this model, then we had to think about other ways to fund them.  This was the intention of the RCC contract, the ancillary fund, and the College Council Funding Stream.

Rape Crisis Center very obviously did not fit our criteria for GSSF funding.  While they did provide an essential service, they simply were not a student organization.  We had a mess the year before with TRC.  So instead of dumping seg fee support for RCC, we wrote a contract for services.  This is an example of looking for new ideas to fund essential services.  If the RCC was in the GSSF, it would have tainted the entire fund.  By pulling it out, we had better control over how we managed this component of the segregated fee budget.

The ancillary budget was a similar set of circumstances.  While WSUM provides unbelievable experiences for students, it did not fit the model of a GSSF group.  What WSUM did was different.  So, we created the ancillary fund to handle groups like WSUM.  Note: We lost control of CCTAP for this very same reason.  We called CCTAP a GSSF group, which was completely inappropriate.  Consequentially, they were moved to the non-allocable, were students get only a ceremonial role.

The diversification of the segregated fee funding streams gave the student government a greater capacity to fund group with unique characteristics and to deal with groups with different needs, differently.

I believe that this was possible for two main reasons:

  1. We made SSFC, and the seg fee process, less partisan.  During the previous sessions, the debate was between the conservatives and progressives.  Now the debate was over how to make the fund sustainable.  This added a microcosmic level to the debate, which de-emphasized the funding of particular line items.
  2. In the long run, this evolution would make the process easier for groups.  With better explanations on how each funding steam addressed the needs of different groups, students could self-select the funding which was appropriate for their group.

Now I certainly do not think that last year’s (or this year’s) SSFC process was perfect.  In fact I think that both years, the eligibility process has been a nightmare, in part because it is hard to say no to a group you feel does good work, and in part, because I did not account for the pressure groups can apply to individual groups members.

I think the budgetary process is always painful and more complicated then it needs to be.  I wish SSFC members were more able to look at budgets programmatically, rather than trying to clean up a budget line item by line item.  I also wish that there was more cooperation between SSFC members and GSSF members.  Currently, I feel the process is far to acrimonious to be healthy.  The fault for this falls both on SSFC members, who are too self-righteous to understand the legitimate opinions of these groups, and on GSSF members who feel entitled to their budgets and are unwilling to think about the larger task which confronts SSFC members.

All this being said, I think that things have improved overwhelmingly for GSSF groups.  I also truly feel that if this constitution fails, ASM/SSFC will return to the partisan battle group it once was. This would most certainly damage GSSF groups and jeopardize their funding.

But I was talking about the changes in ASM leadership.  It has not just been SSFC which has made noticeable, albeit incomplete, reforms. Shared Governance, under the eye of Jeff Wright, now fills all the shared governance committees (I think this comes to about 100 seats a year).  The shared governance process has improved exponentially.

Also, advocacy has improved.  I will again discuss seg fees since this is the area I know.  Recently, ASM was told that they would have to register as a student organization.  This sounds like an insignificant item, but forcing ASM to register, would 1) give the administration the ability to set up criteria that ASM would be forced to meet, 2) potentially deny ASM recognition on this campus (What would happen to all the $$), and 3) (most scary) could then be interpreted to de-legitimate ASM ability to provide event and travel grants.  While these issues are more complex then this list provides, requiring ASM to register would endanger its ability to allocated seg fees in the way it has historically.

This issue was not given any press attention, because ASM was able to identify the problem quickly, communicate with other campuses who were being told the same thing, and formulate a response, which has thus far ended any discussion of the matter.

A similar story could be told about the amendments made the to the Union renovation budget.  The Board of Regents was ready to amend the budget without any student input (outside of Union Council, which should not constitute legitimate shared governance).  Regardless, the responsiveness of Kurt and Jeff on this matter, will lead to the creation of a policy which ensure that SSFC has an opportunity to provide input in any changes to seg fee funded budgets.

While small examples, they do demonstrate a real improvement in the ability of ASM to identify concrete issues which will marginalize students’ power and to address them.  If we use the rent debacle as a point of reference, then this constitutes improvement.  Again, I would never argue that ASM is where is should be in terms of advocacy, but it has certainly made noticeable improvements.

What the leaders of the “Vote No” coalition are trying to say is: We value mass mobilization as a tactic to enact change on this campus.  ASM leadership does not share these values.

If that is their message, then they are probably correct.  ASM has devoted far more energy in recent years to improving the segregated fee system, to making shared governance viable, and to using its capacity to stand up for students on issues that would otherwise be ignored (Think chpt 17&18 revisions).

This is a different value system.  The new structure is designed to improve these functions.  What frustrates me is that they have recruited GSSF groups en masse using claims that this new structure will jeopardize their funding.   These claims are misleading and false.

  1. ASM would be foolish to create a document that would disrupt its power over the segregated fee system.  This system represents ASM’s biggest form of institutionalized power.  Why would they try to limit that?
  2. As presidential systems go, this one is extremely weak.  There are numerous checks on the system to ensure that the president does not have undue say over a the budgetary process.
  3. This system, in general, focuses more effort and time of ASM’s on budgets and segregated fees. While groups may be weary of the increased attention. In general this will provide for a stronger system.

I think what many do not realize is that GSSF groups suffered largely by the neglect of SSFC in the ASM structure.  Rather than working to integrate the work of seg fee funded groups into the larger functionality of ASM, groups only made contact with SSFC members, who had limited contact with the rest of ASM.  Before I was Chair, the SSFC chair did not even attend coordinating council meetings.  There was no discussion of long term planning.  These meetings were used to exchange ice-breaker ideas.

As I see it, the decision over the constitution basically comes down to this: A vote “Yes” will help ASM create clear narratives about its goals and objectives.  It will provide a person in the position to give clear leadership.  It will also allow the work of GSSF groups, and other student orgs, to be better integrated into the central functioning of ASM.  With this relationship, we can see a mutually beneficial result.  Those groups most versed and able to advocate on particular issues would take the lead and be able to collaborate with ASM on these campaigns.  ASM can continue to look for those issues which effect the quality of education but are flying under the radar of student orgs.

A “no” vote almost guarantees a return to where we were two years ago.  The problem is not that progressives have not tried to take over ASM.  My first year in ASM, progressives certainly had a majority.  That did not make the organization functional.  And now, GSSF groups are alienating their allies in the student government with messages that the leadership is wrong.  If they feel this way now, then I think they are missing a key component of the historical narrative of ASM.

-ag

Doltish things we pay for: Part I

October 25, 2008

Should the University of Wisconsin and City of Madison pay for a position to control the drinking and parties around campus? Well, it doesn’t really matter what you think. Welcome to the office of the Alcohol Policy Coordinator. Ironically, UW students pay double for the position as both students of the University and taxpayers in the city of Madison.

Given the city’s fear of the so-called “Wisconsin drinking culture,” both the University and city have felt the need to appropriate funds to help control where and when alcohol is consumed. For this reason, the position of Alcohol Policy Coordinator was created in 2005. The Alcohol Policy coordinator is a city level mayoral aide position with the express goal of controlling drinking and partying.

One just needs to look at a budget to understand where the city’s priorities lie. Even today, as robberies, muggings, and murders run rampant on campus, a bureaucratic position for underage drinking takes precedent. Given its high ranking at city hall, the Alcohol Policy Coordinator makes over $50,000 dollars a year in addition to roughly $10,000 in benefits. While students are paying with tuition and taxes, the university only pays just under $30,000 – what a bargain! It’s great to know that in a time of tight budgets, we are paying for unwanted attention instead of helping to further our schooling by retaining world-class quality professors.

Starting three and a half years ago, Joel Plant became the city’s first official Alcohol Policy Coordinator. Working under the auspices of both the University and City Hall, Joel was tasked with setting all policies regarding alcohol in the city of Madison. This included working with the Alcohol Licensing Review Committee, developing police policies regarding parties at private residences, and developing new ordinances to control excessive drinking.

Today Katherine Plominski is the Alcohol Policy Coordinator and has made ‘Class A’ liquor licenses one of her top priorities. Ms. Plominski, who believes that liquor licenses are merely a privilege, works with the Alcohol Licensing Review Committee and has helped guide the draconian Alcohol Density Plan. The Alcohol Density Plan, which seeks to control drinking problems by limiting licensed establishments in a certain areas, has already proven itself to be a dagger pointed at the heart of local businesses around the campus area. First passed in 2007, the Alcohol Density Plan will sunset in 2010 unless reauthorized by the Madison Common Council. We can only hope that Ms. Plominski understands her position should not be focused on the creation and enforcement of new policies like the Alcohol Density Plan, but rather on working with students to reduce dangerous behavior.

Before we simply deem this position as another tuition dollar sinkhole, perhaps we should looks at its effectiveness. According to PACE, an anti-drinking group funded by University Health Services, approximately 56% of the student population engaged in binge drinking in 1998. Today, over three years after the Alcohol Policy coordinator position was created, the binge drinking levels are estimated to be as high as 67%. Either the Alcohol Policy coordinator is secretly trying to get us drunk, or the policies are outright failures.

Overall, we are not advocating banning groups that support and promote a healthy drinking culture, but we do ask public entities to keep out. Students on this campus are legally adults and should be treated as such. Perhaps students should finally ban together to keep our elected officials subservient to us and not the other way around.

Judge rules on RCF case

September 26, 2008

Surprisingly, the Cardinal is the only paper to report this. 

From my understanding, the ruling states that the university used a reasonable, yet incorrect interpretation of the law when withholding funds from the Roman Catholic Foundation.  Since the interpretation was reasonable, the university does not need to repay withheld funds, but they cannot continue to withhold funds under the current set of laws and univerisity policies.  

However, the university could create a criterion for funding that would prohibit the use of segregated fees for expressed religious purposes, as long as this criterion is view-point neutral.  

Well, that isn’t confusing…

a

The gravy train left at 10:25!! wooo wooo!!

September 26, 2008

From I-Badger “B”: 

Today’s decision on WISPIRG’s eligibility proves that this year’s SSFC is grossly mismanaging the fund. All progress that was made last year in terms of honing the definition of service was lost today. 

WISPIRG was granted eligibility last Thursday. However, after certain committee members’ felt that their reasoning was not grounded in any kind of logic, they moved to reconsider the group this past Monday. (disclaimer: I do not purport that WISPIRG does not deserve eligibility, but I do think the committee is not using any kind of coherent reasoning).  

One may think that having a few extra days to think about their logic would help committee members. However, after sitting in the meeting for only a few minutes, it was easy to tell that this was not the case. 

In order to receive eligibility, a group must show that their group provides a direct service to students (this makes sense, as the committee is called the Student Service Finance Committee). Here are some important bylaws regarding SSFC eligibility.

2.032(3)(c)5- Direct Service Requirements

A group must fulfill all the following criteria:

1) The group must provide to the students of the university a specific and identifiable direct service, as defined by ASM bylaw 2.032(3)(c)2c

2) The group must provide a written mission statement outlining the group’s direct service(s)

3) The direct service(s) provided must be the primary focus of the group

4) The direct service(s) of the group must be aimed at reaching all university students

5) University students must be the principal focus of the group’s direct service(s)

6) University students must be the principal beneficiaries of the group’s direct service(s)

7) The group must demonstrate that the university does not provide a substantially equivalent direct service(s)

8) The direct service(s) must be educational, but cannot be a credit producing activity. 

One member argued that members should consider if the group is making every effort within its context to be tailorable. I shit you not. This was a real argument. Other members argued that issue advocacy in itself is a direct service. GREAT! Now, I need three other people to form an RSO with me. We’ll advocate around the issue of kitten-abuse. Who dislikes kittens?! THIS IS A MAJOR ISSUE IN OUR 21st CENTURY KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY!!!! Oh, the transferable skill sets that I will gain when I argue this at SSFC. But, they cannot deny me because issue advocacy is a direct service. Therefore, I will get funding. 

For more easy listening, do an open records request and get the audio minutes from the meeting to hear more jokes. Any person who pays seg fees should sue the committee.

No, actually Kyle misses the point

September 25, 2008

Today in the BH, Kyle Szarzynski provided his solution for the ailing ASM: Student Mobilization.  The CB has also thrown in his opinion. According to Szarzynski:

Even a Platonically ideal student government will be fundamentally powerless in the absence of student mobilization — the only agent for meaningful change on behalf of those this university is supposed to be serving.

This is the essential mentality on which the current ASM structure is premised.  It is a simple idea, students are fettered by the powerful administration/ state legislature, who are systematically revoking our rights.  It was this mentality that ASM formed in the model of WISPIRG.  As we have learned from the last 15 years, WISPIRG may do an effective job advocating for their issues, but their structure is not a sound for of governance.

It is precisely the WISPIRG/ASM structure which has cause the alienation of institutionalized powers from the day-to-day operations of the organization.  The current system does not facilitate cooperation between the financial and shared governance arms of ASM and the advocacy arms.  As a result, ASM advocacy efforts tend to be anemic. 

The WISPIRG-style of student mobilization, which is what Szarzynski is supporting, is the exactly what ASM needs to move away from.  This is why ASM is creating a closed press office.  This is why ASM voted last night to begin exploration for a new logo that does not resemble 1980s socialist artwork. 

This does not mean that ASM will be impotent in their issue work and advocacy.  For example, ASM has begun to meet regularly with Steve Nass.  The student presence in the debate over University funding could have an important impact on how these issues are dealt with.

But the persistent truth is that the student government is not the organization to call up large rally.  The student government is the group that can represent students officially on these positions.   With this in mind, movement to a model that facilitates this action is the only responsible action that ASM could take.