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General Patterns of ASUC Activity

Fall 1960 -- Spring 1963

     The Associated Students of the University of California, like any political system, can be analyzed by four variables: the political culture in which the system is embedded; the power structure within the system; the pattern of interests of the system's groups and members; and the pattern of policies that emerges from the interplay of power and interests.

     Such a study in the present case demonstrates that the overwhelming power of the administration has rendered the ASUC both passive and apolitical. This passivity is the result not only of overt threats of administrative veto but also of the narrow view that the ASUC has come to have of its own purpose.

I. The Political Culture of the ASUC: Restriction and Self-Restriction

     Although the timidity of ASUC policy is due in part to the power structure of the University and to the suffocation of certain kinds of interests, it must be seen as stemming largely from the Procrustean bed in which the Association has placed itself. All groups in the University community--administration, faculty, students, and Association leaders--see the ASUC as a body of very limited scope and accept this narrow scope as either proper or inevitable.

     A. The Preamble. The Preamble of the ASUC Constitution states: "We, the students on the Berkeley Campus of the University of California, by authority of the President of the President of the University of California and the Chancellor of this campus, in order to provide for the promotion, maintenance and regulation of such matters as are delegated by them to the student government, do ordain and establish this constitution." (Italics added.)

     In December, 1961, Representatives Ken Cloke and Mike Tigar proposed that this preamble be changed as follows: "We, the students at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, in order to provide for the representation of our common interests and the conduct of our common affairs, and, in addition to insure effective conduct of such University activities as are administered by students, do ordain and establish this Constitution." (Minutes, 12-5-61) As stipulated in the ASUC Constitution, Article III, Section 5, a petition asking for a referendum on the measure was signed by five per cent of the undergraduate student body. The Constitution requires that a referendum be held in such circumstances.

     Significantly, this proposed alteration of the Constitution was not defeated by administration veto or even by the overt threat of veto. Instead, ASUC President Brian Van Camp, the symbol and holder of ASUC power and authority, refused to place the measure on the ballot. His explanation points up the narrow view that the ASUC holds of its own authority.

     "The Chair stated that the preamble to the ASUC Constitution is not a matter over which students have jurisdiction. The preamble as it now reads is required by the Kerr Directives and must be included in the constitution of each student government at the University of California. He stated further that the amendment contained in the petition, in light of the Kerr Directives, is illegal, and that he, therefore, would not place it on the ballot." (Minutes, 12-5-61, p. 2) Van Camp's view was upheld by a majority of the Executive Committee.

     B. Because its authority to direct its own affairs is seen as slender, the ASUC sees its instruments of protest as plea and petition -- not demand. The self-imposed limits on authority show in the ends to which ASUC policies are directed.

     The Executive Committee meeting of March 6, 1962, offers an example of the "humble petitioner" role. At this meeting, Representatives Roger Hollander and Ken Cloke proposed adoption of a resolution, prompted by the difficulties encountered in holding a rally against nuclear testing four days earlier: "Be it resolved that the Executive Committee express its desire for a more open rally policy...and that it express this desire to the Chancellor of the Berkeley campus and the President of the University." (Minutes, March 6, 1962, p. 15) An amendment was proposed by Representative Bill Storey that would have recommended reducing the required prior notification from 72 to 24 hours. Dean Towle spoke, saying in effect that a reduction in the time of notification was not possible. Mr. Storey then withdrew his amendment; the final resolution called only for "a subcommittee to discuss with the Chancellor of the University the possibility of instituting a more open rally policy." (Ibid., p. 19) It is possible that Dean Towle's intimation that no change would be made encouraged the retraction of the amendment; significantly, however, there was little discussion of it, and even the motion which was finally passed was criticized for its boldness.

     These examples of the refusal of the Association to push beyond an accepted narrow sphere of authority indicates a deeply ingrained awe of administration authority. This awe reinforces the objective power position of the administration. It is not necessary for administrators to restrain or restrict in such a situation. This voluntary self-restriction to a narrow, ineffective sphere is certainly as significant as administration power. The above are not instances of repression; they indicate instead the long-term effects of benevolent guidance from above: timidity, narrow perception of one's goals, and, consequently, immobility.

II. The Power Structure

     A comparison of the power of the University administration and the ASUC leads to distinctly one-sided results. The ASUC's power is solely delegated: it appoints student officials, sponsors some of the clubs that the administration recognizes, and approves the budget. Other matters within its purview are merely internal administrative details. The ASUC lacks sanctions: it can petition the administration and exhort the students, but it cannot compel either on any matter. On the other hand, the administration has the power to punish students with the ultimate sanction of exclusion from the system itself.

     This power relation is clear and explicit and has never been successfully challenged by the students, although the faculty has exacted some procedural guarantees of hearing and appeal for itself. The Preamble to the ASUC Constitution, quoted above, states this relation. A case taken from the minutes of the ASUC Senate will show it in action.

     On October 31, 1961, Representative Ken Cloke proposed a resolution of sympathy for an impending vigil protesting the resumption of nuclear testing by the United States. Some discussion arose as to whether an Executive Committee's vote on this resolution would be beyond its scope. In this instance, the self-stifling tendencies of the ASUC were powerfully reinforced by Dean Towle's statement, as the Chancellor's representative, that she would interpret approval of the resolution as a violation of the University's Policy on Privileges of Student Organizations (Kerr Directives). (Minutes, 10-31-61, p. 10) The resolution was defeated.

     This example shows the University's overwhelmingly superior power. Approval of the resolution would have rendered the Executive Committee liable to disciplinary action. In this case, the appearance of democratic discussion was dropped. When it appeared that the Executive Committee would not automatically confine itself to a very narrow view of its role, the authority of the University was invoked to require them to do so.

     An unfortunate effect of such exertion of power is that it is demonstrably arbitrary and selective. An endorsement of the Berkeley Fair Housing Ordinance in March of 1963 was not ruled inappropriate political and social action, while an expression of sympathy for a group of students was.

III. The Pattern of Interests

     Political interests are the ends sought by groups acting within a political system. In the ASUC these interests range from the establishment of folk dance clubs to the advocacy of political and social action.

     A. Student interest groups. Power determines how successfully a group's interests can be forwarded. In the case of the ASUC, the power of the administration acts against the expression of the interests of those student groups committed to political and social action. The University policy of recognition of student groups discriminates between political or religious and nonpolitical (or religious) groups. It permits the direct subsidy of groups whose goals are noncontroversial and apolitical by allowing them to use University facilities for regular membership meetings. Some groups benefit by the membership gained through the advantage of meeting on campus as they maintain offices within buildings owned by the ASUC and also benefit from the prestige conferred by use of the name of the University in their official name. (The Spring, 1963 list of recognized organizations, in addition to student government bodies and approved living groups, names about 130 organizations whose activities are considered inoffensive.) The political groups, which the administration does not "recognize", must hold membership meetings away from the campus and compete for the space available at Stiles Hall and at religious centers. The expression of their interests is restricted by the University regulations; non-political groups, having no interests in political or social action, are in effect unregulated.

     B. Regulation of interest expression through student government. Just as the regulations on student organizations affect only political organizations, so student interests as articulated through student governments are apolitical and innocuous. We have seen examples of the ways in which the ASUC checks itself and of the ways in which University power further checks political stands. The University Regulation states:

     "Student governments are established by the University for the purpose of conducting student affairs on the campuses. Students with widely varying political, religious and economic viewpoints give them financial support; hence it is certainly not appropriate to permit student governments to speak either for the University or for the student body with reference to the off-campus political, religious, economic, international or other issues of the time. Therefore, student governments ...may not take positions on any such off-campus issues." (UC Policies Relating to Students and Student Organizations)

     This exclusion of politics from student government leaves two realms in which it may operate -- recreation and student welfare. These indeed are its spheres of activity.

     1. Recreation. The ASUC operates recreation rooms and a bowling alley and sponsors choral, dance, beating and other groups whose purposes are recreational. Recreation seems to be one area in which ASUC feels competent to act and in which it takes its responsibilities seriously.

     2. Student welfare. This area of activity is apparently relatively narrowly defined by the ASUC, referring to courtesies and conveniences extended to the students -- check cashing service, lockers in the bookstore, campus maps, and so forth. The Association, of course, lacks power to improve welfare in such substantive areas as housing. But its scope is not as limited in power as it has been in practice. The ASUC Store offers an example of an area in which student welfare could be increased without overstepping these bounds set by the administration and punctiliously observed by a complaisant student organization. This store is operated by the ASUC; its prices are similar to those of other bookstores near the campus. The ASUC is fully responsible for the operation of this store and makes its policies. It could, if it chose, operate the store as a cooperative, as do many student associations at other colleges and universities. Or it could offer a mail-order discount service to students. Both of these proposals have been made; neither has been implemented. A reason can perhaps be found in the particular interests represented in the student government. As we have sought to establish, it is not a forum for political discussion. However, it is a potential source of funds for nonpolitical organizations. The profits of the store are used to support these organizations -- Glee Club, Treble Clef, etc. These interests are the ones that prevail in decisions about store policy.

IV. The Pattern of Policy

     The interplay of power and interests determine policy patterns in a political system. It follows that much can be inferred about power and interests by an examination of a political system's pattern of decisions.

     In the spring of 1963, Representative Keith Axtell prepared a "Record of the ASUC Senate" which listed 25 of the most important actions taken by the Senate that semester. This list is an enlightening record of the pattern of policy of the ASUC. Eight of these actions represented nothing more than requests for minor adjustments of the complex administrative machinery of the University: a request to make available to Berkeley students the library and check cashing facilities of other campuses (2-14-63); a request that two holidays be added to the calendar (3-7 and 3-14-63); a plea for more parking for motor scooters (3-14 and 4-30-63); a later deadline to file study lists (4-2-63); a pamphlet for transfer students (2-28); and the establishment of a small fund to make it easier for faculty members to entertain students in their homes (4-18).

     Two actions, which at first appear to be independent and political, merely support positions taken publicly by the administration: the Senate told the legislature that they favored increased faculty salaries (2-21) and opposed a bill that would charge students for their college education (2-28). The Senate also decided to join two existing programs, the School Resource Volunteers (2-28) (associated with the Berkeley Unified School District) and charter flights to Europe at reduced rates (3-7). They re-established the ASUC Student Forum (3-7), thus creating a way for individual students to voice their opinions on political issues, but the Forum still could not express a consensus of student opinion.

     They took four actions purporting to deal with the educational life of the students; a year-long "study in depth" (4-18) (of which no further mention has been made, 18 months later); a committee to provide materials for faculty course evaluation by the students (3-14) (no results -- perhaps SLATE has effectively pre-empted this field); a method of curriculum evaluation for the faculty (3-14); and a plea that more consideration be given to teaching ability when faculty members are chosen (3-21).

     They petitioned the faculty to experiment with the Honor Code (3-14) and set forth the philosophy of such a code (3-28), but refused to poll students on such a code.

     They founded an ASUC Leadership Training camp, a matter of merely internal importance (3-28).

     Five actions of the twenty-five are political. Three protested the now-lifted ban on Communist speakers (3-7, 4-30, 5-9). Two of these actions, however, were initiated only after the Chancellor had criticized the ban in a speech to the American Association of University Professors. The Senate established a committee to study the possibility of a Peace and Disarmament Institute (nothing has happened since). And, in the single action that can truly be considered a disinterested expression of concern about a political issue, they endorsed passage of the (unsuccessful) Fair Housing Ordinance (3-7).

     In conclusion, because the administration exerts its overwhelming power to regulate the expression of political interests, ASUC policies reflect satisfaction of other kinds of interests. A study of the policies of the Associated Students of the University of California over the past three years clearly supports the opening comments of this paper. The power and pressure exerted by the administration on students has had the net effect of causing the ASUC to be a passive, apolitical organization that functions only intermittently and perfunctorily as an educational experience for students and almost never as a genuinely political body.

            -- Margaret Rowntree
                TA in Political Science


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