For decades now, the ASUO has proven itself consistently capable of only two things: taking more money from students each year, and embarrassing itself, the University and the students it allegedly represents. From its grievance-driven electoral process and laughable voter turnout, to intellectual incoherence and corrupt relationships with groups like OSPIRG, the ASUO perennially represents the very worst aspects of modern democracy. If this body signals the future of America’s political leadership, as is so often claimed, our republic faces a dim future indeed.
But even if we accept a baseline of ASUO ineptitude, waste and overblown rhetoric, there are times when the student “representatives” threaten to embarrass not only themselves but the entire University. Such is the case of the proposal to allow student-wide votes on incidental fee funding for individual programs. Should this measure pass, it would be in direct violation of the Supreme Court’s Southworth decision, and the ensuing legal action would make the ASUO a laughing stock not just on campus but across the country. Southworth’s doctrine of viewpoint neutrality is the single most important Supreme Court ruling on student fee funding, and the ASUO’s ignorance of it can not be defended.
The proposal’s backers believe that because existing student programs won’t be defunded by popular vote, they’ll be able to avoid the embarrassment of having their proposal overruled in court. They are wrong. The budget system currently in place, flawed though it is, is the only way of ensuring viewpoint neutrality in the eyes of the law. If this measure passes, it will be overturned in court, revealing before a national audience that the ASUO is totally ignorant of the laws governing their actions. Is it not enough for the ASUO to be embarrassed on campus alone?
But even if we ignore the fact that this measure will be overturned in court, what is its possible benefit? Any argument that it represents a more democratic funding option is undercut by the fact that student turnout in ASUO elections is embarrassingly low. Moreover, it would reinforce the only current reason to vote in ASUO elections: because your student-funded group stands to gain from the results. Rather than making the ASUO more democratic, this proposal would only entrench the ASUO’s culture of patronage and corruption.
Finally, by only allowing groups to gain funding through popular vote, the ASUO is making an end run around the few existing constraints on their ability to extract funds from students. Budget growth is currently capped at 7 percent annually, which given a $13 million annual budget amounts to more than $900,000 in increased fees per year. The idea that the ASUO needs an additional, uncapped source of student funds is beyond ludicrous. Sooner or later, students will realize that the Incidental Fee has become more of a barrier to higher education than any of the social ills it claims to address. And when that happens, students won’t just be embarrassed by the ASUO, they will be angry.
Former editor-in-chief, Oregon Commentator (2006-07)