How the ASUO should spend its summer

Summer term is a quiet time in the ASUO. Two of the three branches of student government are not functioning at normal levels. There are currently only two justices on the Constitution Court, and there is no Senate to fill the vacancies. Summer Senate committee does not have the power to confirm executive appointments or pass resolutions, and barely controls enough money to fund a single issue of Ethos magazine. Still, the senators and executive staff members still in town can get started on some major initiatives that will be hard to solve or will improve the ASUO’s image on campus. Here are five areas – some pressing and others easy to ignore – that the ASUO can work on right now.

1) Busses, busses, busses.

Former ASUO President Sam Dotters-Katz said transportation issues were the toughest and most defining of his tenure, and it looks like the new Senate and ASUO Executive are going to be working on bus policy all year. Whether Lane Transit District or some other service will transport students at night and how to pay for either will continue to be one of the thorniest policies students decide. ASUO President Emma Kallaway has yet to solidify the 2009-10 LTD contract because the district wants the ASUO to pay for security guards on the late-night 79x route that the ASUO funds. Kallaway is looking to negotiate about the security guards and perhaps other aspects of the contract, and is still considering other options for helping students get home late at night.

2) Find a permanent way to fund the 24-hour library.

Like late-night busses, the library service is not only Kallaway’s baby. All but two senators ran in the spring election with slates that endorsed 24-5 Knight Library. Now it’s everyone’s job to find a way to continually pay for a popular service that has twice been funded through stop-gap measures. Some in the ASUO have always wanted the University to pay to keep the library open, though it seems unlikely that could happen in this economic environment. The Senate will decide which Band-Aid to apply for another year or whether to try to fund it in the regular budgeting process with money saved from another contract. Whoever pays for it, once library service is institutionalized the price will be much higher because the Department of Public Safety – not private security guards – will have to patrol the library because of DPS’s contract with the University.

3) Get the Senate out of that damned board room.

Support is already building to find a more welcoming venue. The EMU Board Room’s conference table is barely large enough to hold 20 senators. When students come to Senate meetings for business or to observe the process, they find a stuffy room with a lovely view of the backs of senators’ heads. The room has barely enough seating for two large groups of students with business before the Senate, and everyone else has to sit on the floor or in the hallway. Kallaway said recently that the EMU Maple Room is a likely option for moving the Senate because EMU rooms can be booked far in advance, and the Senate will need to ensure a meeting space for every Wednesday of the academic year.

4) Start branding things.

An organization that controls $12 million and provides services from a Designated Driver Shuttle to football tickets should not be as misunderstood and maligned as the ASUO. The student body’s lack of participation in campus politics more likely stems from ignorance than from a hardened political stance against the incidental fee or deep-seated apathy. Perhaps this could change if services provided by the ASUO were more clearly labeled as such. There are a million missed opportunities to let students know what services the incidental fee provides. For example, the 2008-09 Senate spent nearly $5,000 per term to keep afloat Ethos, the magazine formerly known as KD, and didn’t ask for anything in return from a publication that could be read by as many people as voted in spring elections. An ad for your student association might be one way to reach out to students who don’t otherwise know or care. Dotters-Katz touted his Blue Scholars hip-hop concert as something the ASUO did to benefit a wide swath of students. A banner recognizing that the concert was paid for by student dollars might have let them know that was the goal. By the way, who funds the UO Bike Loan Program? Is it the University’s general fund? No. But that’s what the misleading name implies.

5) Make the Academic Senate more responsive.

The ASUO Senate is divided into finance senators, elected by the entire student body who sit on committees that govern the use of the incidental fee, and academic senators, who are elected by and are supposed to represent their respective majors. One problem: The full Senate spends most of its time allocating money and approving the work of the finance committees, and in the past year rarely discussed issues related to any particular academic constituency. The workload between finance and academic senators is more than a little unequal, and there is no system for academic senators to actively measure or respond to the concerns of their constituents. This is by no means the fault of the current academic senators. But an ambitious Senate and executive could find a way to make the body more responsive. Last year Dotters-Katz sloppily and antagonistically rolled out a plan to create a bicameral legislature that would separate academic concerns from financial ones by putting academic senators in a lower house. This would have been a gargantuan sell for any executive, even one with better rapport with the Senate than SDK. But regardless of the system for making them more responsive to the needs of the student body, academic senators need to better know their constituents and have a platform to better serve them.

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