Opinion: Comment on Parliamentary Procedure

11 Apr

Update: This post has been updated to reflect the Daily Bruin’s acceptance of my letter since the original post.

As an alumnus of UCLA and an alumnus of their undergraduate student government, the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC), I have strong feelings about how the USAC Council works.  I also believe that you are only a good leader if you care about what happens to your organization, whether or not you’re in it, which includes after you leave it (which is why I happily gave information regarding the organization in the Daily Bruin’s editorial).  I submitted something to UCLA’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin, regarding the way they’ve been handling their organization.  However, I am glad that someone else, a current student, had the same feelings and their submission was accepted instead.  (I think you’ll agree with me that their submission was so much better.)  My submission is 1st and Mr. Ian Cocroft’s, an undergraduate student working within the Office of the General Representative 1, follows:

Letter to the Editor: USAC’s disregard of parliamentary rules risks council’s image

UCLA’s past undergraduate student governments have mostly worked well together at the Undergraduate Students Association Council table in regard to debating various issues or discussing proposals to changes in student policy. For those who have served at the USAC table, we know that most of the work is done away from it. However, we also realize how important it is to discuss the issues in view of the public so that we are properly held accountable for the decisions we make.

Many believe that parliamentary rules are an obfuscation to general policy consensus. However, when used appropriately, it is a very effective tool to illuminate topics brought to the table by councilmembers while still preventing any one individual from derailing the process.

Joseph Vescera’s article, “USAC considers new position after overlooking rules,” in News on April 8 is unfortunately an embarrassing status update of the regard, or rather the disregard, that USAC has for the rules it has sworn to uphold. Regular adherence to the constitution, the bylaws and normal parliamentary procedure (i.e. Robert’s Rules of Order) during uncontroversial times protects council when contentious issues come to the fore because then they are not perceived as being biased when they make an unpopular decision. The leader of an organization is supposed to set the standard of how its council operates; President John Joanino has failed in this respect, and now council is being forced to consider the position of parliamentarian to right itself again.

The author served as the USAC finance committee chair during the 2011-2012 school year.



Submission: USAC needs parliamentarian position to hold council accountable


February’s student government meeting on divestment was an undeniably tense moment for everyone involved. On top of the already bitter atmosphere, straw votes, secret ballots and nine hours of public comment added to the tension, eroding the student body’s trust and respect for the Undergraduate Students Association Council.

Throughout the year, procedural missteps and oversights have raised pressing questions about the council’s knowledge of its governing documents.

Councilmembers are not entirely to blame. Properly adhering to the rules of student government requires a knowledge of a few rather long and tedious documents: the USAC constitution, the bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order. The best solution to this problem, proposed by a USAC committee, is to create the position of parliamentarian to sit at the council table.

As an ex officio member, the parliamentarian could contribute to the conversation at the council table, but would not cast a vote.

Currently, the USAC president acts as chairperson of the council, and every councilmember has a duty to be knowledgeable about the rules that bind them. They have clearly failed in that duty. Without the presence of a student committed above all to the rule of law, students lack reassurance that USAC can respect the rights of every student on campus.

As a former Election Board member, I know firsthand that adherence to USAC’s rules and regulations is crucial in ensuring fairness, equality and justice for every UCLA student. Without respect for the rule of law, the very legitimacy of student government institutions is called into question.

A parliamentarian would help USAC meetings run more efficiently, freeing up time for officers to focus on ways to tangibly improve the lives of students on our campus. Such a position would serve the interests of both councilmembers and the general student body. Students could be assured that proper procedures would take place, while councilmembers would have an expert to turn to if they sought clarification of the rules.

The need for the parliamentarian is clearly urgent, as USAC continues to make decisions that clearly contravene the bylaws and the constitution.

On Tuesday, USAC voted to appoint a new community service commissioner, even though students were kept in the dark about the status of the current community service commissioner, Omar Arce.

At the meeting, the council made no mention that Arce had been declared ineligible to participate in USAC. Even after Arce’s seat became vacant, the constitution holds that the position can only be filled “after open interviews,” a process that never occurred.

A councilmember, regardless of his or her conduct, cannot be unseated without due process. Although Arce was deemed ineligible to participate in USAC by UCLA administrators, the council was only notified of this fact on Tuesday. The bylaws clearly state that a position does not become vacant until five days after such a notification, an important regulation that council conveniently overlooked.

After a councilmember has been removed from office, the council has a duty to the student body to hold itself accountable to the constitution in selecting a councilmember’s successor. After an elected officer has been removed, all students should have the opportunity to interview for a position that will speak for the student body at the council table. Rules matter because rights matter, and every student has the right to seek an open USAC office.

Clearly, the council cannot or will not follow the rules that govern the institution of student government on its own volition. Allowing a student well-versed in parliamentary procedure and USAC’s guiding documents to sit at the council table would provide councilmembers with a constant reminder that they are always accountable to both the students and the rule of law.

Without adherence to clearly defined rules, students cannot be assured that everyone has the same rights, the same access to funding and the same ability to participate in the student body that shapes the undergraduate experience of thousands of UCLA students.

During election season, many candidates promise to increase the “transparency” and “accountability” of USAC. It is time to act on that promise. If USAC is to serve students, advocate for important issues and empower student groups, it must be held accountable to the principles of justice and equality laid out in our governing documents.

Cocroft is a second-year political science student and the director of the PULSE committee in the General Representative 1 office.

Email Cocroft at icocroft@ucla.edu.


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