Members of ASUU fear a new advisor position, instituted by U administration to overlook student government, threatens their authority and independence.
Their concerns over the post, filled by Tasha Myers, boiled over in an emotional confrontation during the February ASUU Senate meeting. Student legislators questioned Myers — who sat alone at the front of the room during the more than 90-minute discussion — over her job description, plans for ASUU funds and role as a supervisor.
“This is not an impeachment trial,” Myers responded at one point, her voice cracking slightly. “And for me to sit here and feel like I have to go on trial to explain myself to you, I am just doing my job.”
Senate Chair Cindy Chen, though, says it’s not exactly clear what Myers was hired to do and worries that if ASUU doesn’t set boundaries now, a precedent will be set that gives the role too much control over student government in the future.
Defining the Position
The university hired Myers in May 2015 as the director of student leadership and involvement. Her job description, created to alleviate responsibilities from others housed under the Office of the Dean of Students, involves working with student groups, coordinating the leadership studies minor and planning various programs and events.
The position announcement mentions ASUU twice in its three pages, requiring the director to work “closely with the elected and appointed leaders” of student government and to “evaluate, assess and develop program components” within the organization.
Chen said a lot of the tension comes from the first part — working with the executive cabinet. Members of ASUU, including the Diversity Board, Campus Relations Board and Campus Events Board, have voiced concerns to Chen that Myers shot down student-led initiatives or questioned their purpose, such as the bill led by ASUU President Ambra Jackson and Vice President Anthony Fratto to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day at the U.
Jackson refrained from answering questions but emailed a statement which said, in part: “With any new position comes a growing pain. Working with Tasha has challenged my team and myself.”
Part of the issue, for Jackson, stems from the hiring process. She wishes students had more of a say in the interviews and choosing who filled the position.
The advisory job, housed under and paid for by the Office of Student Affairs, is intended to look after university policy, said Dean of Students Lori McDonald, who previously checked on ASUU prior to the new position. Myers’ role, she notes, is not to micromanage student government, but to ensure it follows the rules in all of its proceedings.
There is no provision, despite expressed concerns, allowing Myers to sign off on bills and joint resolutions passed by student government, which she told The Utah Chronicle is a “100 percent student legislation process.” Her role also oversees finances and contracts with the university.
McDonald, though noting that change can be difficult, said ASUU has always been checked on by the Board of Trustees and watched over by administration — that is not new to Myers’ position. There should be no misconception, she said, that ASUU is an entirely free and independent student organization: “When it comes to day-to-day operations, this is an entity of the university.”
Three senators — John Peterson, Keegan Brown and Daniel Barber — questioned the need for that authority over student government when there are already five advisory positions in place in the organization, including Financial Advisor Rob Phillips and Associate Director Tom Hurtado. Peterson, in particular, expressed concern over excessive supervision and “administrative bureaucracy” silencing the voices of student-elected representatives that he feels should be empowered to affect change on campus without disproportionate checks and balances.
“ASUU is not as independent from the university as you all think it is,” Myers said in response to his comment at the meeting. “And I’m sorry to feel like the bearer of bad news to say that, but it’s never been there.”
Communication Style and Race
Near the end of the Senate meeting, Myers expressed concern that her race affected her reception within student government.
“I’m a black woman,” she said. “And what comes with that historical context of a strong, independent, intelligent black woman saying things and being interpreted in that way … is people acting on prejudices they may not be aware of.”
Myers later told The Chronicle that she believes many find her direct style of talking, which she ascribes as an attribute of her racial identity, intimidating.
“It seems as though, for some of my students, this is the first time they have worked with a black woman with my level of responsibility,” she said.
Jackson, also a black woman, told Myers at the meeting that is not the case. She said the issue is solely related to a lack of communication, which she hopes to improve in the future.
Myers also spoke at the ASUU Assembly’s February meeting, though Legislative Advisor Sana Muller said “the mood wasn’t as confrontational” as it was in the Senate and lasted less than one third of the time.
Myers previously spoke to the Assembly in September to describe her new role — she said it was a mistake not to talk to the Senate at that time as well.
Chen said that might possibly have relieved some of the tension with the senators as well as improving communication. She sent an email to the Senate prior to the meeting — later forwarded to Myers, who Chen said disapproved of her actions, by someone in the organization — which might also have roused confusion and anger, but she stands by it.
“If she took it as a personal attack or if it came off as harsh or if it came off as aggressive, I think we took those actions because what we were doing prior wasn’t working,” Chen said.
Myers hopes to move forward with the understanding that the “reaction has nothing to do with me personally, but rejection of the role itself.” She hopes, with time, the transition will be smoother and she can help students with their initiatives and ideas. Chen, too, said the legislators will try to work on the relationship between the two parties.