Letter to the Editor: Why our student government is failing us
The UAF student government, ASUAF, is failing the student body and its partnering organizations. According to their website, “The Associated Students of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, or ASUAF, is YOUR Student Government,” and they pledge “to take action in the best interest of the student body and the university community,” among other responsibilities. As an important group they have shockingly little student involvement and active participation. During most senate forums the lack of involvement gets mentioned, saying that student involvement is a top concern, but they make little effort to increase their numbers. The problem is, many students don’t want to be involved with ASUAF, not because they are disinterested, but because the governing body has a bad reputation.
Over the past few years, ASUAF senators have been criticized, by both the university public and fellow senators, for being unprofessional, uncooperative, and non-inclusive. I am not going to spend this entire Op-Ed discussing my personal opinion of past or current ASUAF senate members, but it would be irresponsible for them not to think their actions, as a group and individual members, impact the opinion of the senate as a whole.
ASUAF has shot down and ignored multiple bills addressing their lack of professionalism. In Spring 2015 and Fall 2016, some senators were pushing a bill that would require active senators to go through a judicial check process; this is the same process that all student employees have to go through in order to be hired and represent their departments. The bill was designed to make sure the senators representing the student body were safe, qualified, and responsible.
According to bill supporter, former senator Kayleen Hansen, the bill was voted down because “it would be a barrier for students to get involved,” this was an absurd and weak argument. By voting it down, senators sent a clear message to the student body; they didn’t have to be held to the same standard as other employees, and that anyone, no matter how unqualified could have a seat on senate.
Recently, SB 189-039 (Professional Development through Mandatory Trainings) was proposed that would require senators to take trainings such as Green Dot Bystander training (Violence prevention), QPR training (Suicide prevention), SafeZone training (LGBTQ+), or Racial Equity training. The bill was never brought to the table, and overall was ignored by all but two active senate members.
These instances tell me, as well as the student body, that on multiple occasions senators have voted to not address claims against them, and voted not to be held accountable. The image of senators affects the image of ASAUF as a whole, and has contributed to the lack of student involvement. When you see capable, excited, and diverse senate members excluded and ridiculed, it doesn’t inspire students to become involved.
In their mission statement, ASUAF states that one of their purposes is “to provide services and activities for the students and the University community at large.” The main way the student government does this is by partnering with other departments on campus. Except, they have developed a reputation among the student body, especially those involved in planning boards, for being uncooperative. If ASUAF really wants to offer the student body what they want, they need to strengthen their relationships with UAF departments that are also trying to offer engaging and exciting activities for students.
As a governing board, they will take the blame for the faults of the groups they oversee. I believe part of their responsibility is to be as helpful as possible in order for programming to thrive. ASUAF needs to help campus departments and groups grow their programs, through financial and logistic support, in order to offer the best events and activities that will engage the student body. If ASUAF acted as the supportive governing body their mission statement claims they are, the opinions of students would change.
Public relations can be defined as a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. Currently, ASUAF needs to address their public relations problems—the negative opinions against senators, lack of professionalism, and uncooperative nature—or else they will never achieve the student involvement they desire. Furthermore, qualified, bright, and engaged students will continue to avoid the senate. ASUAF has the resources and budget available to make a real difference on campus, but they are currently squandering their opportunities to make a positive change and impact at our university.