Feeding the Many Mouths of ASUC Interns

Bret Heilig is a former ASUC attorney general. Respond at [email protected].





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Reading last Wednesday's Daily Cal, I couldn't help but chuckle at the latest turn in the scandal over student fees going to feed ASUC interns ("ASUC Executives Spending More Money on Food, Officials Say," Jan. 30). President Wally Adeyemo wants us to believe his 140 interns, who are unpaid, put in "40 or more hours a week," and therefore deserve to be fed by the rest of us, to the tune of $3,000 per semester. This would be preposterous even if such a work schedule were physically possible, for reasons I'll discuss further down. If any intern works that hard (and I admit, a few of them may), I would be pretty surprised.

To begin, the average student enrolled at UC Berkeley would probably not also be able to shoulder a 40-hour work week. If that image isn't convincing, consider the math: 140 interns multiplied by a (minimum) 40 hour work-week equals 5,600 person-hours of labor per week. Divide that by the 168 hours there are in a week, and you have 33 interns in the office, or otherwise laboring, at any given time. Assume that people don't work in the middle of the night, or on weekends, and the number gets even more ridiculous. At the same time, anyone who has been to the second floor of Eshleman will tell you the typical scene in the Office of the President is two or three interns, mainly engaged in making sure the Eshleman Internet connection does not become dangerously idle.

This is not to disparage the activity of those interns who do work hard. They know who they are, and they have done good things for the university.

What I do intend to criticize, however, is the policy of having interns in the first place. We have seen the ASUC executives (Catherine Ahn, who feeds her interns with private funds, exempted) are willing to spend large sums of public money to recruit and retain them (mainly through free food), and we have just now seen ASUC executives willing to exaggerate dramatically in order to justify their presence. But what are the interns really for?

ASUC Executive Vice President Justin Christensen has about 80 interns in his office right now. But why does he need that kind of help? His duties, as defined in the ASUC constitution, are to chair the senate, break tied votes, assign Eshleman office space (which he did over the summer), appoint senators to committees (done in September), run senate leadership training (done in August), and replace Wally in the event of an emergency. None of those things require a staff at all, let alone a staff of 80.

The Office of the President is even worse. The ASUC president, again, according to the constitution, runs the Association if an emergency arises when the senate is adjourned (summer and winter breaks), exercises the veto power, and monitors the health and welfare of the Association. One hundred and forty interns currently help him to do that. They carry titles like "Project Director," "Policy Advocate," and "Public Relations Associate." Yet I've never seen a "Policy Advocate" in the senate, and I've never read a "Public Relations Associate" quoted in any medium. The means, at any rate, are entirely askew to the supposed ends.

Which leaves us then with the original question: why are there 220 people working in Eshleman Hall, when neither the constitution nor the senate has requested them? Why do they get to eat for free? Why do they get official business cards, identifying them as holding positions the constitution has not ever established?

To answer these questions definitively would be fairly difficult. However, it probably isn't hard for either Wally or Justin to see that a happy intern, who has been given a rank, a title, free food, a fast Internet connection to use, and a scrubbed-clean view of ASUC politics, will probably vote for the guy who gave him all those things. If that was never the reason for recruiting them in the first place, it's probably a good enough reason to keep them around.

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