Students Deserve Freedom of Information in ASUC

Howard Chong is a UC Berkeley student. Respond at [email protected]

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There are a few principles of democracy that ASUC as an organization seems not to appreciate. First of all, government is supposed to be fair and not play favorites. Second of all, government should aim to be transparent. Third, information about ASUC should be freely available to the public. The last one is even part of the ASUC Bill of Rights in the constitution. Without upholding these three principles, ASUC government lacks legitimacy and none of its decisions should be looked at with respect.

The issue of favorites is a tricky one. I would say that very few ASUC officials would pick their friend's plan over a plan obviously better for the student body. But one can play favorites in more discrete ways. Senators will often ask for funding for their own programs. In some more real governments, this is called a conflict of interest.

What the senators decided is that before they allocate a sum of money, they open up the project to proposals from students. In essence, ASUC would then select the agendas they want advocated and then put out a request for proposals from the whole campus community and fund the best proposals. Instead, and I've talked to several senators, that just isn't realistic. So instead, the senators and other ASUC officials ask their friends and the groups they are involved in. So ASUC plays favorites to themselves and each other.

Transparency is much simpler. The ideal of transparency is that students can call a single number at any time, night or day, ask a simple question and get a straightforward and complete answer instantly. And, to throw fairness into it, the person on the other end of the phone gives the same answer to a given question regardless of who is asking. ASUC, though, is very opaque.

The first problem is, who are you supposed to ask? There is an ASUC front desk, but usually asking a question there will direct you to one of the other offices. You go to that office and ask a question, and usually it is an intern who is in the room and doesn't know. So then you e-mail the ASUC official your question, and, in my experience, you get a response only about 50 percent of the time (and I did go out and test the ASUC executives and senators on this), which is pathetic. But what is worse is when I imagine one of their friends asking them for a favor or funding, and I can just imagine how helpful they are.

Information should be free. Our federal, state, and local governments all have freedom of information laws, and our ASUC in Berkeley, home of Free Speech, has access to documents and information as part of the Bill of Rights in the ASUC Constitution. So I ask then, why was the ASUC Web site out of date for over three months, forcing me to sue to get information ASUC laws mandate to be on the Web site? Why, then, doesn't ASUC have up on its Web site basic ASUC civic information like, "How a bill gets passed." Why isn't there an index of ASUC published documents that a student can look through to get a feel of what information is available? Freedom of information fails when the information is so buried few people can access and understand it.


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