Outgoing ASUU President Reflects on Long, “Consistent” Year


August Miller

(Model Released), Jack Bender [email protected], University of Utah students pose for various lifestyle photos and portraits for marketing collateral at various location on the campus of The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah Wednesday April 20, 2016. (Photo by August Miller)

By Connor Richards

As the University of Utah’s class of 2017 wraps up the year and prepares for graduation, Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) President Jack Bender is among them. With commencement around the corner, the outgoing student body president is reflecting on four years of involvement with ASUU.

Bender’s administration and their party Students Leading Change (SLC) ran on a platform focused on three things – rebranding ASUU, lowering and appropriating student fees and increasing university and student involvement.

“Obviously ASUU has had kind of a bad rap in the past and I wanted to fix that,” said Bender.

When he was the marketing director for ASUU, Bender pushed to redesign the student government logo, which he said was unfriendly and out of touch. The new design, which is stylistically simple, was the first step in changing the image of ASUU, he said.

Next, Bender worked to remodel ASUU itself, starting with their offices. The former layout of ASUU was cubicle-based, which Bender said segmented the area and discouraged interaction between students and colleagues.

“There were a lot of walls built up,” Bender said. “We decided to bring those down.”

With the removal of the cubicles, the office became an open and collaborative workspace, Bender said as he pointed to a group of about a dozen of students working at a table. “That is probably more than you would ever see with those cubicles.”

In addition to adjusting the office layout, Bender’s administration tidied up the Redbook, a document containing ASUU’s constitution and bylaws. Redbook hadn’t been edited or updated in years, Bender said, and was rife with spelling errors and ambiguous language.

“We made a lot of clerical changes to the Redbook,” Bender said. “We’ve probably made 3,000 changes. To start the year, it was about 75 pages and it’s almost 100 pages now.”

These changes were made early in the year by ASUU legislative advisor Melanie Lee and Attorney General Connor Morgan.

Aside from spelling corrections, Bender said language within the document was edited to clarify powers and increase transparency in ASUU.

“There’s been a lot of redefining to make sure people understand what they can and can’t do.” he said. “It takes away an almost dictator power from the attorney general and puts it back in the student’s hands.”

To achieve another aim of the SLC Party – to lower student fees – ASUU centered their focus on the fee that students pay to the U’s athletics each semester. For the 2016-2017 academic year, that fee was just under $86.

“We looked very closely at every single student fee, and athletics kind of caught our eye,” Bender said.

ASUU proposed a $6 reduction in athletic fees, but by the time the proposal passed by President David Pershing, that amount was lowered to $3. It then went on to the Board of Trustees and the Board of Regents, passing through both.

“That was a big checkmark,” said Bender.

To increase university and student involvement, the administration installed a comment box on the ASUU website, an idea taken from a suggestion made by the One Party during elections. Bender said the comment box allows students an opportunity to praise or criticize their student representatives.

According to Bender, his administration has worked to respond to student concerns. After some students expressed concerns that the “It’s On Us” sexual assault awareness campaign didn’t adequately address the issue, Bender said he and others made changes to better meet student demands.

“We have pivoted since that initiative last year,” Bender said. “We’ve heard from students who want more resource-based information instead of signing a pledge and so we took their ideas and this month we have Sexual Assault Awareness month.”

Not all students had their concerns addressed, however. A group of students demanding the U divest from fossil fuel expenditures gathered over 500 signatures from students supporting their cause.

In February, the Committee of Student Affairs, which has three ASUU voting members, including Jack Bender, voted against the petition. This was not a vote on the question of fossil fuel divestment, Bender said, but on the particular wording of the petition.

“They weren’t voting on the content,” Bender said. “They weren’t voting on divestment. They were actually only voting on the language that they gave us to be written. The concern was that the language was so ambiguous and so unclear that it would cause the office to actually not be able to function.”

As for the actual divestment push, Bender said he has no comment. “But I applaud them,” he said, “Because they put some good work into that. They did a lot.”

One of the biggest struggles, Bender said, was having staff step down from leadership positions to focus on school or to run in a campaign. The Director of Marketing, Director of Campus Events, Director of Student Advocacy, Director of Academic Affairs and Director of Governmental Relations abandoned their roles before the school year ended.

“That was really tough on us,” Bender admitted. “I wouldn’t say it happened at the best time for us. It was in November, just before the semester was ending, so it was really challenging to fill those positions in a quick manner where they can transition and continue of the right foot for next semester.”

With a new administration on its way in, Bender said he is confident they are inheriting a good situation.

“I think we’ve been pushing very hard this entire year,” Bender said. “We feel like we’ve been going very consistent and strong right to the end.”

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