Scott: Students foot the bill for ASUU’s internal drama

The+ASUU+executive+branch+for+the+2018-19+academic+year.+From+left+to+right%2C+former+vice+president+of+student+relations+Xandra+Pryor%2C+president+Connor+Morgan%2C+vice+president+of+university+relations+Maggie+Gardner.+Courtesy+of+the+Morgan+ticket.
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Scott: Students foot the bill for ASUU’s internal drama

The ASUU executive branch for the 2018-19 academic year. From left to right, former vice president of student relations Xandra Pryor, president Connor Morgan, vice president of university relations Maggie Gardner. Courtesy of the Morgan ticket.

The ASUU executive branch for the 2018-19 academic year. From left to right, former vice president of student relations Xandra Pryor, president Connor Morgan, vice president of university relations Maggie Gardner. Courtesy of the Morgan ticket.

The ASUU executive branch for the 2018-19 academic year. From left to right, former vice president of student relations Xandra Pryor, president Connor Morgan, vice president of university relations Maggie Gardner. Courtesy of the Morgan ticket.

The ASUU executive branch for the 2018-19 academic year. From left to right, former vice president of student relations Xandra Pryor, president Connor Morgan, vice president of university relations Maggie Gardner. Courtesy of the Morgan ticket.

By Elise Scott

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Whether they are incoming freshmen or seasoned seniors, many students at the University of Utah have little understanding of the role the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) plays on campus. ASUU provides assistance with on-campus childcare, tutoring and legal services for students as well as club support, events and concerts that enrich campus community.

Yet, its cliquish environment creates an unproductive distance, as the majority of students at the U are there to pursue education, and share little concern for the controversies roiling within their student government. ASUU is so exclusive and insular that the majority of students are often unaware of specific instances of failure and disciplinary action, let alone the internal factions and alliances at play.

The Censure Incident

As such, ASUU’s last public squabble was an unwelcome development to the many students who are already dubious about the portion of their yearly student fees that directly fund ASUU. It’s a fair concern, especially after it was revealed that Xandra Pryor, the former Vice President of Student Relations — who received tuition compensation paid for by students — had not attended meetings throughout the year, and that the legislative branch failed in its attempt to impeach her. The confusion culminated two weeks before the end of the 2019 Spring Semester. Several current and former members of ASUU debated publicly between themselves, sparking fresh scrutiny about ASUU’s relevance and competency among the students on the outside looking in.

It is imperative that members of student government do their jobs. Their scholarship is funded by student fees and they must fulfill their duties whether or not they believe that the student body is paying attention. If a student is neglecting their responsibilities, those who provide the check to their power must act quickly to address the situation. If the Assembly must impeach a member of the Executive Cabinet, it must be done in an expedient manner — not at the tail end of the semester. If the desire to avoid negative fallout guided the delay in action, the Assembly was just as guilty of wasting student fees.

Students who read The Daily Utah Chronicle understand that its criticism of ASUU is not uncommon. However, this specific response is germane to more than ASUU playing fast and loose with student fees, the former Vice President of Student Relations and the Assembly’s failed efforts to remove her. It is important to note that, from the beginning, Pryor was called a b—- by a former member of ASUU on a private meme page — who, after being called out for his behavior, rebutted that his use of “that b—-” was general, gender-neutral and an exercise of his right to free speech.

Suppression of Student Speech?

There are many instances where online culture enables people to explore edgier, unfiltered expression, and while that may inform the context around the offensive meme, it is not an excuse. Vigilante justice and edge-lord humor is intrinsic to internet culture but it is not a shield from consequences in the real world. This kind of language leaves a sting that is not salved by personal apologies and affects far more than any specific person, as has been exemplified by the consequences of that post long outlasting the botched impeachment.

Accusations of the suppression of student speech are weighty — the freedom of speech on campus is a subject of serious concern, as is the ability of students to obtain an education without being degraded by loaded insults. While using sexist language to swipe at someone is an expression of free speech, it is also an indicator of a lack of respect on campus. It was revealing how many of the same students who decry microaggressions, slurs and general disrespect turned on a dime once their support of calling a female student a b—- fell under criticism.

One could say that Pryor was a public figure and that her office comes with scrutiny, some of which may be unsavory. It is only fair that all students who enjoy the benefits of ASUU involvement must also accept the consequences for their decisions within the organization. But while students in ASUU face the demands of leadership and representation, they are not on par with elected government officials.

These leaders are fellow U students who are young and at the beginning of their careers — to imply anything otherwise is disingenuous. Professional legislators wield a significant amount of power that affects constituents far more extensively than any work done by ASUU — opening those in formal positions up to greater criticism. ASUU is not on that level — it is a training environment in which mistakes occur as students develop leadership skills. While ASUU is concerned with representation and funded by student fees, remembering that it operates below the standard and with far less jurisdiction than a state government provides perspective.

When conflicts within ASUU arise, all parties involved would do well to take several steps backward. Too often do valuable and necessary campus discussions disappear within a wave of emotional outbursts. The impact of one’s words weigh greater than their intention, and using sexist insults to demand refined leadership is fairly ironic — true positive change need not stoop to such meanness.

ASUU’s Reputation

It is deeply unfortunate that ASUU has a reputation that alienates students. From the outside looking in, it can often be difficult to pinpoint exactly what ASUU does, how it is run and who it is for. Effective student advocacy relies on a trusting relationship with the student body. ASUU can operate as a bridge between the university and its students, who come from many diverse backgrounds, hold different perspectives and face a variety of challenges. Yet, the seemingly unending preoccupation that ASUU has with itself has caused many to disengage and move on.

ASUU is “Baby’s First Government,” just as The Chronicle is “Baby’s First Press.” Both organizations provide opportunities for leadership, development and networking, but at the end of the day, they are run for students, by students. Because ASUU handles student fees and student representation, The Chronicle will report on ASUU — even if that reporting highlights frustrating dysfunction and retaliation. Students have a right to know when there is discord within ASUU so that they may demand more professionalism in the future.

For those who are current members of ASUU, former members of ASUU or desperate to join ASUU themselves, it is time to accept responsibility — those who provide criticism should commit to conducting themselves with the same decency and professionalism they ask of others. It is my hope that ASUU will continue to contribute to The Chronicle, using its reach to enrich student life rather than as a cudgel for internal disputes. There should be continuing conversations about who we are as a campus, what leadership entails and how to combat the unacceptable treatment of our students.

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@elisenicscott