Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Discussion on Executive Power
Report from the External Affairs Vice President
Mr. Montes said they had a voter turnout of 70%, which was amazing, especially for a primary. That was largely due to the External Affairs office. They were out there a lot and passed out hundreds of Voter's Guides and called over 1,100 people to remind them to vote and inform them where the polling location was.
Mr. Montes said he was featured in Time Magazine, which he was really excited about. There was a copy in Eshleman Library. The article was about young voters, how in this election it was now their turn, and how the youth vote will matter.
Mr. Montes said he would like to yield time to the offices National Department. Monica Thammarath introduced herself and said she was the National Campus Organizing Director. Edward Chow introduced himself and said he was National Legislative Liaison. They were there to give the Senate a brief update on the Higher Education Act. The office had a big campaign to get Congress to pass it. The HEA was probably the most important piece of legislation in higher education. It's supposed to be renewed every five to seven years but hasn't been renewed for over a decade. That coming week they'll mobilize students to contact their representative. The HEA would make FAFSA more accessible and would update the educational definition of hate crimes, including theft, harassment, and vandalism. The HEA would also provide crucial funding for programs that the Governor has proposed to cut, such as the TRIO program, which helps low-income students. It would also increase the Pell Grants maximum to $9,000, making it equivalent to what it was in the mid-70s, when it was at its highest. Even during the Reagan Administration, the maximum Pell Grant was $6,000, as opposed to the current maximum, $4,000.
Ms. Thammarath asked for a show of hands, of how many people wanted to go to grad school in the future; how many fill out FAFSA forms; how many receive financial aid; receive Pell Grants; and have taken out student loans. She said at least everyone raised their hand during one of those questions, or people they work with would raise their hands. The office was trying to mobilize people to encourage Barbara Lee to support the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The US Student Association sent the office a form, since Berkeley was an indirect member, a "Valentine's Day of Action," to send to legislators. One said, "Where is the love, Congress? Why do you keep on raising student fees?" Another was "Roses are red, violets are blue, pass the HEA, that's what students need you to do." Her favorite was "Roses are red, violets are blue, please pass the HEA, my rent is due." There were different kinds of Valentine cards, with space for individual messages on why this was important to them. There will be a letter-writing or postcard campaign they'll send to Barbara Lee next week. It would be powerful for Rep. Lee to see hundreds of letters from the campus saying that students wanted her to push this forward or to sponsor it. If any Senators would like to help them, they have a packet that contained an information sheet so they could answer any questions, a simple class rap sheet, a sheet to note the classes where announcements were made, and some Valentine's Day cards. They want to make this an effort that unites students.
Mr. Montes said he would strongly encourage people to apply for Student Regent and to attend the Regents meeting in San Francisco in March. They'll vote on whether or not to consider fees. He called for any questions.
Mr. Weiner said that Mr. Montes distributed material from the USSA, and asked how the ASUC was related to the USSA. Mr. Montes said the ASUC was not a member, but was an indirect member. The UCSA was a member of the USSA, and the ASUC was a member of the UCSA.
Mr. Weiner said that since the ASUC hasn't passed a bill regarding the Higher Education Act, he asked if they were working on it because of something for the USSA, or the UCSA. Mr. Montes said the office works on issues that affect students. The material they just distributed came from the USSA. The office was looking for information on this, and from their research, the USSA was the only student organization nationwide working on these issues. So the ASUC asked for help on the issue, since the HEA needed to be reauthorized.
Mr. Vartamov [proxy for Mr. Wu] said that since they don't have successful legislative change through poetry, he asked what else the USSA was doing to support the HEA. Mr. Montes said the ASUC wasn't a member of the USSA. But the USSA was having a legislative conference Berkeley students could attend, one of the biggest and most influential events for students at the nationwide level, who will lobby on these issues. This also helped the campus be aware of what the HEA was and how it directly affected them. One change would be to have a FAFSA application that was only two pages long. Ms. Allbright said speaking time had expired. Ms. Patel moved to extend by three minutes. The motion was seconded by Mr. Vartamov and passed with no objection.
Mr. Osmeña asked if they'll send the letters to anyone else besides Rep. Lee. Ms. Thammarath said she thought it would be more powerful as a campus to send letters to Barbara Lee since the campus was in her district. Ms. Thammarath said she was from San Diego, and they're sending the letters to students' representatives at other campuses. Mr. Chow said Ms. Lee was not a co-sponsor of the bill, and their goal was to get Rep. Lee to be a co-sponsor of the bill and take leadership.
Mr. Weiner asked if this was coming out of the UCSA position or the Exec office, as they weren't a member of the USSA. Mr. Montes said this was the National Department of the EA office, and was one issue they're working on. It was a national issue the EAVP's office was working on.
Mr. Seaty asked about proposed budget cuts. Mr. Montes said the Student Lobby Conference, which he's talked about before, will happen and students will go to the Legislature. The deadline for applying was extended to that evening at midnight. They're also going to the Regents meeting at which the Regents decide on the budget and will also go to Sacramento for the May revise. They'll make sure the office was at every step of the process, and ASUC Senators and their constituents were welcomed to join them. Ms. Allbright said speaking time had expired. Mr. Osmeña moved to extend by five minutes. The motion was seconded by Mr. Wong and passed with no objection.
Mr. Weiner said that ASUC elections were coming up, and he asked when Mr. Montes planned to introduce constitutional amendments to grant him and his office the powers he was currently exercising that weren't in the Constitution. Mr. Montes asked which powers those were. Mr. Weiner said he was working on what was obviously a political campaign, sending letters from his office to a local legislator that was not presented for the ASUC Senate, the legislative body, to take a position on. Mr. Montes said it was difficult for the office to do that type of work. But regardless, under the Constitution, he was in charge of supervising all lobby efforts. As for it being a political campaign, this was not an endorsement of a candidate. The HEA was non-partisan and directly affected students.
Mr. Weiner asked what he'd say to a student who felt a certain way on this issue. If the issue had come to the Senate, the student could have come out to speak for or against it. Mr. Montes said he was a little confused because Mr. Weiner mentioned ASUC elections, and he didn't know what Mr. Weiner meant by that. Mr. Weiner said he would assume Mr. Montes would submit a constitutional amendment to grant the EAVP's office the kind of powers it's been exercising lately. Mr. Montes said that if assumptions were made, people should talk to him beforehand. This conversation could be taken off the floor. And if a student wanted to talk to him about this, he would encourage that. Mr. Montes said he's been talking about the HEA since September. If a student didn't agree with what the office was doing, he would love to talk to them and see what could be done about that. At that point, he hasn't had any objection to this work. If the Senate felt he shouldn't be working on it, it could act on him as EAVP.
Mr. Seaty said he would like to thank the EAVP for helping to keep fees down and making college affordable. He asked if the office would work on this if the Senate said it didn't want him to do so. Mr. Montes said students would still mobilize if that happened, if not through the office, then by themselves. If students disagreed with the HEA, they should talk to him.
Mr. Osmeña asked if he could outline the arguments against passing the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, or talk about who was against it, and what the counter-arguments were. Mr. Montes said the HEA was passed in the ‘60s to make education more accessible and valuable to all students. Ms. Allbright said speaking time and total time for reports had expired. Mr. Rhoads moved to extend by five minutes. The motion was seconded by Ms. Patel and passed with no objection.
Mr. Montes said that that as for counter-arguments against the HEA, they dealt with its current form. Financial aid wouldn't be available for people who have been convicted of drug use. The bill passed unanimously through its committee and there was no major push against the HEA. If the Senate wanted, he could look into those arguments.
Mr. Vartamov said that in his opinion, Mr. Montes was clearly biased towards the HEA. But the issue Mr. Weiner was getting at was that Mr. Montes should not be able to promote his own political views. Mr. Montes said he didn't think Senators or proxies should make assumptions. He was looking at everything that affected students that was non-divisive for students. He felt the office should be working for the HEA not because he was strongly for it or because he was politically biased, but because it was an issue that affected all students. And the only people who would benefit from it being passed were all the students across the nation, regardless of where they might be coming from.
Mr. Weiner asked how he could act in a situation where there were a number of issues that affect students. If they assume that there weren't two sides and that these issues were ones that every student agreed with, there should be action. But he said that Mr. Montes didn't consult the Senate or solicit student input in order to decide among all the issues. He asked what Mr. Montes would say to a student who would prefer that action be taken on another issue. Mr. Montes said that if there was something an individual or an organization wanted to have worked on at the national level, the office would be glad to do that. That was one thing they lacked last year. They wanted to work on the national level on things that weren't being brought up. So they saw the HEA issue as a good opportunity.
Mr. Weiner said there were many local issues that students agree needed improvement, from rent to social regulation. When asked why he worked on HEA instead of another issue, he asked what Mr. Montes would say. Mr. Montes said he would say that the External Affairs Office had three Departments: Local, State, and National. The National Department was working on the HEA; the City Affairs Department was working on issues such as those that were mentioned in the question; and they have CAL Housing Director who worked on rent and on making sure people had heating, e.g. The office didn't just work on one thing at a time. If there was anything the Senate thought the office should work on, they should let them know and they would be happy to work on that. Ms. Allbright said speaking time and total time for Reports had expired. Mr. Osmeña moved to extend by ten minutes. The motion was seconded by Ms. Patel and passed by voice-vote.
Mr. Osmeña asked if he planned on coming to the Senate with any bills that would support campaigns conducted through his office. Mr. Montes said he did.
Mr. Seaty asked if he had a general feeling about how students on campus felt about their tuition and how they'd pay for college. Mr. Montes said it was hard to speak for every student. In conversations he's had, students don't want fees raised and they want financial aid to be clearer. If they mess up one thing in FAFSA, they're screwed for financial aid. They want money from Pell Grants that wasn't for just one year, and would like a packet every semester. They want college to be accessible and affordable for everyone.
Ms. Winston asked if he believed that the ASUC referred to the 20 Senators in the room or to the student body. Mr. Montes said it referred to students. Senators were representatives of the student body and were not the student body.
Mr. Kunert said he was being told his power in the Senate was being restricted. Ms. Allbright asked him to ask a question rather than making a statement. Mr. Kunert said he would request that matters that were the official stance of the ASUC to be put forward in bills and voted on in the External Affairs Committee. If the different Departments in the External Affairs Office took a stance on what might possibly be a controversial issue, whether or not the issue related to students, it should be voted on in the External Affairs Committee. Ms. Allbright said the question was whether Mr. Montes would comply with that request. That was her interpretation. Mr. Montes said he would. If they say something was the stance of the ASUC, or the EAVP, then of course he would bring it to the Committee. But nowhere did any of the material say this was the stance of the ASUC or the stance of the EAVP. It was just giving information and stating how to get involved. There was no real stance being taken.
Mr. Rhoads moved to recess for five minutes. The motion was seconded by Ms. Winston and failed by voice-vote.
On a point of personal privilege, Mr. Silver asked if all this back and forth and bickering could be taken up with Mr. Montes off the floor.
Mr. Weiner said he was bringing concerns forward so students could have a chance to respond. Ms. Allbright called for a question. Mr. Weiner said his question involved two sections of the Constitution he was concerned about. Article III, Section 1, "ASUC Senate," states that all legislative and final administrative authority of the Association was vested in and exercised by the Senate. Article II, Section 4, "Powers of the EAVP," states that one duty was to present the position of the ASUC. Mr. Weiner said that what he heard from the Vice President was that his office was going out and figuring out, in a sense, what the position of students was. That was a clear violation of the part of the Constitution that states that legislative power, the power to take positions, was vested in the ASUC Senate. Ms. Allbright said that was an argument. She asked him to please ask a question. Mr. Weiner said his question was if Mr. Montes' office was coming up with positions of the ASUC and acting upon them, or if he was simply presenting positions that were decided upon by the ASUC Senate.
Mr. Montes said it was neither. They're not asking or telling students how to think or vote, or do anything. This was information the office was giving them. Mr. Montes said he felt there were a lot of questions, and he would strongly suggest that if any Senators did not agree with the Higher Education Act or with the EAVP office working on the HEA, or if they would like an alternative, or would like the office to work on other issues on the national level, he would ask that they please come and talk with him.
Mr. Vartamov asked what percentage of Berkeley students supported the office's position on the HEA. Mr. Montes said he didn't know. All the students he's talked to felt this was a big issue. If it was just the office that thought this should be worked on, that was one thing, but obviously people felt the HEA deeply affected them. He wasn't saying 75% liked it, or that 5% of the Senate didn't like it. What he was saying was that this was an issue that affected all students.
Mr. Vartamov said that if he didn't survey the student body or the Senate, he asked where Mr. Montes was getting his information from. Mr. Montes said it was from talking to students.
Mr. Weiner said he was even more concerned after the answer to the last question. He was getting the impression that Mr. Montes was gauging the opinion of students before he took actions. He asked if the office was taking it upon itself to gauge the opinion of students on the campus and deciding to take action based on opinions, and not going to the ASUC Senate for such decisions. Ms. Allbright said speaking time had expired. Mr. Osmeña moved to extend speaking time and total time by 15 minutes. The motion was seconded by Mr. Kunert. Ms. Allbright said that the vote of 9-5-0 met the threshold of a simple majority, but did not meet the threshold of a two-thirds vote. The EAVP's report was extended by 15 minutes. However, the total time for Executive Officer Reports was not extended. Therefore they could not continue with this report. Ms. Patel moved to extend total time by 20 minutes. The motion was seconded and passed by voice-vote.
Mr. Montes asked if Mr. Weiner could repeat the question. Mr. Weiner said there has been an implication in Mr. Montes' answers to a number of questions that evening that when his office decided to take action, Mr. Montes went out and gauged students' opinions and did that by talking to students. He asked if Mr. Montes' office was deciding to take action on things like the HEA, or anything else, based on his personal office's gauging of student opinion.
Mr. Montes said it was hard to say "personal office" because that's what the EAVP's office was there for, to see what students want and need. The reason they were working on this now was because it will be voted on next week. He wasn't contesting the Constitution, but was saying they need to have some work on this; and students were working on it. If the Senate felt the EAVP's office should not work on this issue, and that was presented to him, then he would not work on the issue. At that point that hasn't happened. He would rather people talk to him about what their office can efficiently do to represent students, rather than having these questions on the floor.
Mr. Osmeña said that in section 4.A. of the Constitution, when it says "the position of the ASUC," he asked how he believed that position was made. Mr. Montes said he didn't have the Constitution in front of him and asked if he could see a copy of the Constitution and what the question was referring to.
Mr. Osmeña asked how the position of the ASUC was determined. Mr. Montes said his understanding was to present the position of the ASUC to other campuses or other bodies outside the University, so it was to present the ASUC's position in places where he represented the ASUC, to his understanding. As the External Affairs VP, there's nothing about in this about what he represented. He wasn't a member or Board member of the USSA.
Ms. Allbright said that she knew that people were having a great time interpreting the Constitution, but the Judicial Council was a great place to continue this kind of discussion. The J-Council actually had the authority to interpret and enforce the Constitution and By-laws.
Mr. Osmeña said that as he heard Mr. Montes' answer for this specific project, it didn't fall under that provision of the Constitution. So he would ask where the authority of the EAVP was to carry on this kind of project. Mr. Montes said that specific section involved matters outside the University, and what they were doing with the HEA was working with Berkeley students. So that specific section wasn't involved. Mr. Montes said his job wasn't to interpret the law but to represent the students and to bring up issues that affect students. And this was such an issue.
Mr. Seaty asked if the EAVP's office has thought about taking a poll on whether students would like their fees decreased, or increased. Mr. Montes said they could do that if the Senate wanted, but the office already had a tight schedule. From what he was hearing, it seemed that the Senate wanted the EAVP to present a bill for everything people in the office were working on.
Mr. Weiner asked if he thought his office was a platform for his personal left-wing political views or an office that incurred a serious responsibility to follow and to work according to the Constitution and the rules of the ASUC. Mr. Montes said he didn't. The office was there to represent the student body. Nowhere has he ever brought up his agenda to the Senate, or talk about how he felt about issues. He brought issues to the Senate that affect all students. He had no personal engagement with the HEA and was graduating. He didn't agree with Senators saying how he was relating his political views to his office. Nowhere in the issues the office was working on was there a left-wing political view or agenda.
The issues were simply those that affect all students. All students may not agree with what the office was doing, and some may want their fees to be raised. He would appreciate it if the Senate didn't accuse him of putting his political views onto the Senate. That's not what he's done, and that was something he's really worked on that semester. It's the reason they work on non-partisan voter education. He's never told people how to vote or said how he was voting. And he didn't list candidates' events in his Facebook. When he made presentations to the Senate, if people felt the issues he brought were left wing, they should talk to him.
On a point of personal privilege, Ms. Patel said that she understood that Senators could discuss things in a heated manner, but there were students in the room, and she would ask them to please make it a more welcoming place. If that meant to keep people's tone of voice down, then so be it. She said that was not directed at anyone.
Mr. Weiner said there was agreement that the office should not be a platform for personal politics, and he asked how they could prove to the students that this wasn't about personal politics if the office decided to take action just by talking to students, and not based on the Senate, the representative body of the students at Cal. Mr. Montes said that since he was getting questions from one Senator, there might be some bias from that Senator, because Mr. Montes said he didn't get this resentment when he talked about voter registration. They informed students of what was on the ballot and how students could be involved in the electoral process. It was the exact same thing they were doing with the HEA, telling students about issues that greatly affected them and how they could get involved.
Ms. Ureña asked if students working in the External Affairs VP's office actually state that the ASUC Senate supported the HEA. Mr. Montes said they don't.
Mr. Kunert said it was mentioned that he represented students by talking to them. Mr. Montes said he didn't say it that way. Mr. Kunert it was mentioned that Mr. Montes gauged the position of students by talking to them. Mr. Montes said he doesn't gauge the position of students and talks to them to see what issues affect them, and learn what they felt were the most important things to work on. And the HEA was one of the most crucial pieces of legislation mentioned, especially when students talk about FAFSA and grad school. He never asks a student what they thought about the HEA, or propositions or candidates. They don't "gauge" those things.
Mr. Kunert said that Mr. Montes has claimed to need the Senate's authorization for a poll, and he asked how he could justify pushing a campaign on students without the authorization of the Senate for a poll, and extrapolating the pushing forward of a campaign without better information. Mr. Montes said hes never said the Senate had to ask him to do a poll. He said that if the Senate felt that the office should do that, they should make them do it. If the Senate wanted the office to work on that, Senators should talk to them and they'd make sure to do it. They want to do what was most efficient for all students. Ms. Allbright said speaking time had expired.
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