Initiative May Bring Change to Auxiliary

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The Future of the ASUC Auxiliary

Katie Nelson talks with James Zhao about the future of the ASUC Auxiliary.

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UC Berkeley student leaders and ASUC Auxiliary officials are beginning to voice their apprehension over a lack of student input as concerns grow regarding possible staff cuts and restructuring of the auxiliary through an ongoing campus initiative aimed at cutting costs and streamlining operations.

The auxiliary was identified as one area on campus that could face cuts and transfers to other units in an April report of Operational Excellence - a controversial campus initiative in which the campus hired consulting company Bain & Co. last October to assist in finding ways to save at least $75 million through consolidating and restructuring campus units, among other cost-saving measures. Though discussion is still ongoing between the auxiliary and campus officials, auxiliary officials said changes could force a reduction in student services.

The auxiliary was created by the Commercial Activities Agreement of 1998, which stemmed from a multimillion dollar debt carried by the ASUC, resulting in the creation of a proxy campus-run department to provide financial, business and operational oversight while recognizing the autonomy of student government, according to Nadesan Permaul, director of the auxiliary.

Permaul said if the auxiliary were to be restructured, some auxiliary positions could transfer to other campus units. This could make it more difficult for the ASUC to provide current student services, although which services could be eliminated or altered are still unknown.

Permaul said he was in preliminary discussions with Associate Vice Chancellor, Business and Administrative Services Ron Coley about how to make the auxiliary more efficient.

Coley did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Vice Chancellor Frank Yeary, co-chair of the initiative's organizational simplification team also did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Dean of the College of Natural Resources Keith Gilless, the other co-chair of the team, declined to comment.

Yeary serves on an advisory committee for The Daily Californian that does not have control of editorial content.

"We're having to face serious financial issues; these are the same issues that Operational Excellence and organizational simplification are trying to tackle," Permaul said. "But there's only so much bandwidth given the number of people we have. Do the students want to see their services altered for cost-efficiency or do they want more customer service?"

Financial instability continues to exist for the auxiliary, leading to the layoffs of two staff members two years ago, Permaul said. Further restructuring this year has left some positions vacant.

ASUC Attorney Mark Himelstein said in an e-mail that the auxiliary's autonomy would be sacrificed if it is dispersed.

According to Himelstein, if the auxiliary is split, the ASUC should be permitted to resume control over its own affairs by hiring its own executive director and staff and resuming control over the bookstore and all other commercial activities.

"(The April report) is a report based on dollars and cents only and does not take into consideration the overall educational mission of the campus insofar as serving the needs of students," he said in the e-mail.

But many students remain unaware of what the initiative is, while campus administrators have insisted they have reached out to students. Student leaders are now voicing concerns about the actual extent of student involvement.

ASUC President Noah Stern, Cooperative Movement Senator Elliot Goldstein and Graduate Assembly President Philippe Marchand authored a bill to be voted on by the ASUC Senate, recommending that students participate in each of the seven Operational Excellence teams. Stern said students should be "wary" of the initiative.

"It's really critical that students can have that information so they can provide input to any decisions being made in response to those requests," Stern said.

The bill comes as a reaffirmation of a proposal submitted to administrators by Stern and Marchand over the summer. Stern said each of the initiative's teams are to submit student engagement plans by Oct. 1 to present to the senate Oct. 6 because of the proposal.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications Claire Holmes said in addition to engaging with Stern and Marchand, the teams will "reach out through existing student groups on campus to invite them to participate in a focus group session or survey work or specific meetings."

Since last year, changes in student leadership roles within Operational Excellence have altered interactions. Former ASUC President Will Smelko and former Graduate Assembly President Miguel Daal held positions on the initiative's Steering Committee, but Stern and Marchand do not have formal roles in the initiative and have only been included in a couple of meetings in which Stern and Marchand said they mostly spoke of increasing student representation.

"The only student involvement in the past with (the initiative) was in the form of a survey, and I see that as a kind of passive way to get student input," Marchand said. "What we actually want is for students to be right there, to be an integral part of each campus committee."

Though he is the graduate student liaison for the assembly to initiative meetings, Marchand said he "was shocked" by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's Sept. 21 letter that announced some 200 positions would be eliminated beginning in January as part of the initiative.

"We didn't know how far in the process each of the groups were," Marchand said. "My understanding was that there were a lot of positions already eliminated from last year."

Permaul said the auxiliary has already faced "painful" staff reductions, but will have to wait until Birgeneau's final decision in January to see what further cuts will be made. Until then, he said there are two possibilities - continue to function in its current state by focusing on providing more student services, such as the renovation of Lower Sproul Plaza, or cut costs, which would reduce services.

"It's not like having somebody come and fix generic pipes in a maintenance job; it's not like having a standard administrative task done in an office," he said. "We don't work that way."

Alisha Azevedo of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Katie Nelson and James Zhao at [email protected]

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