Suppose there is a new car being developed whose tires are made out of cinderblocks. Researchers developing this car have been holding market research studies to determine the thoughts and opinions of everyday people to see what they think of it based on style, safety, utility, and overall handling. An alarming number of participants are reporting that the ride is extremely bumpy and the handling is quite dangerous above speeds of 5 MPH. What is the problem with this vehicle? Would researchers blame the inability of the suspension system to handle cinderblock tires or would most blame the fundamental premise that cinderblocks are not a very good way of supporting a moving car? Criticizing the behavior of an institution without carefully examining the reasons why they exist to begin with is a foolhardy activity which cannot yield proper conclusions. Just as it would be silly to blame the car’s suspension for its inability to drive correctly, it is equally silly to blame the rules, policies, leaders, and budget of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN) for the problems that have been reported by it. Close exploration of the ASUN’s reported symptoms will show that the institution itself needs to be removed and replaced with Goodyear circular rubber tires.
The ASUN is the undergraduate student government at the University of Nevada, Reno who purports to “… form a more perfect association… ” by “…enhancing our university and enriching students.” The first thing that must be understood about the association is the way they go about achieving the conveniently vague mission of “enriching students”. By taking money from every single undergraduate based on a per credit basis of five dollars, they collect about 1.6 million dollars where they use it to “enrich” a minority of undergraduates and salaried staffers. Before discussing their justification for this, exploration into what they do with this money will further warrant the need to challenge them. Just as the participants reported problems in the above car example, so must the problems of the ASUN be revealed before a solution is found.
As mentioned, ASUN’s 1.6 million dollars primarily go to fuel their personal self-benefiting (and self-glorifying) endeavors. A student who is fortunate enough to become a member of the ASUN system will be treated to perks at the expense of everyone. A $3,500 retreat in Tahoe, separate $2,000 departmental retreats, $3,000 travel expenses, a $2,500 banquet, stipends ranging from $1,000 to $8,800 a year, hourly wage positions, thousands of dollars worth of fringe accounts, and large amounts of free food and insider benefits await the lucky one. Student dollars are also going towards the assortment of bloodsucking bureaucrats that have burrowed themselves into cushy positions who help ASUN insiders perform their duties as demonstrated by their mandatory and irremovable $685,000 annual participation fee. Arguments supporting this situation only come from those benefiting from it. They claim that such perks are a prerequisite before the “enrichment” of the undergraduate body can ever begin.
Any ASUN staffer will proudly point to their programming, homecoming, or club support departments as a product of the money taken from students for their own enrichment. These programs are equally, if not more wasteful than the money flowing into their own pockets. Consider the ASUN’s club support department. This program caters to campus clubs by giving them access to over $150,000. A typical UNR student who wants to access this treasure only needs to be a member of a club and attend a hearing in front of some ASUN kids before they are given up to $9,600 per year per club . If that particular student is a member of multiple clubs, then the amount available increases dramatically. The greatest problem of the club commission is that no amount of policies or the quality of the leaders selected to distribute the money can arrive at an equitable solution for all undergraduates. Just as painting the car in the above example a metallic red instead of a Rustoleum black from a spray can make no difference to the performance of it if it still has cinderblock tires. The commission is composed of up to eight apathetic and tired commissioners who spend an entire day dishing out other student’s money where they are only checking to see if a club’s request violates their funding policies. Not only are they are not allowed to discriminate one request from another, they simple do not care. They can’t care. They are not able to.
In the past, the commission has been known to allocate $4,000 worth of catered meals for a club’s weekly meetings, sponsor hundreds of dollars worth of assault rifle ammunition, pay for plane tickets to fly kids all around the world, buy hundreds of dollars worth of apples for a club to smash, spend countless dollars on other food items, give money to the fraternities so that they can replace broken lamps and other furniture from their last keggar, and even spend thousands for a carnival calling for their own abolishment which featured pizza, ponies, bounce houses, a mechanical bull, live DJs, and hundreds of dollars worth of balloons. The programming and homecoming departments purchase similar items and services for their events too. A multi-thousand dollar event may not even gather one hundred people, such as their annual “Howl @ the Moon” which feature mechanical bulls, live dance floors, bounce houses, gyro-balls, concessions, and security guards. Student money has been known to be spent on more pervasive items, such as twelve billboards promoting homecoming costing $11,300. Food is almost always available at their meetings, including private birthday parties in the Great Room on the fourth floor of the JCSU featuring food, drinks, and other items – all at the expense of the student body.
What has been listed is not an exhaustive list of what ASUN does with student money. Countless other activities, items, and events have been spent with very little oversight or notice. Whereas an individual would face moral, ethical, and public scrutiny for doing the exact same thing with stolen money, such technicalities are absent in the world of the ASUN due to their convenient justification: elections.
In order to extract money from students and do whatever they want with it, the ASUN forces an election system upon the student body to justify their fiscal crimes by claiming that their actions are somehow representative of the student body. Taking place in the early spring semester, future candidates of the ASUN ignorantly campaign for policies and promote ideals which are most likely unachievable within the ASUN mechanism. Unaware that they are completely being used by the system and the salaried bureaucrats that rely upon it, the campaigners blissfully promote the ASUN and legitimize its actions through their childish idealism. After holding an election with an average participation rate of 12% of the undergraduate student body, they blissfully proceed to appoint their friends and approve the budget under the banner of selfless civil service.
Through this justification they also find themselves permitted to create rules and policies that stifle free speech and hinder student action in ways which extend beyond the fee they charge every semester. Instead of allowing students the ability to freely assemble into groups and express their ideas in the open marketplace, they subject them to a needless bureaucracy which will turn off even the most motivated students. If some friends wanted to abide by the policies and set up a table on the quad to fund raise, for example, they would have to first become an ASUN recognized club. This includes navigating the ASUN’s resoundingly terrible website to find the form. Upon finding this form, they would realize that it requires them to find a minimum of ten students who share similar interests and collect their names, numbers, R-numbers, and in many cases home addresses. Next, the friends would need to find a club advisor which must be a faculty member of the school. Finding a faculty member to provide their name, phone number, and email address can be tough to do if a club’s ideas are unpopular or difficult. Next, they would have to draft a ‘club constitution’ which requires club elections, succession, purpose statements, a club name, and mandatory ASUN non-discrimination clauses. If they are still interested in tabling at this point, they submit this form to the club commission for approval. Considering that the club commission does not meet over summer, and only meets every other week during the regular semester, it could take a significant amount of time to be approved. Many times the club commission will find things wrong with club’s constitution or documents provided with the form which will only prolong the arbitrary ASUN recognition process. If the club is finally approved, they are now permitted to request that table.
The problem with immediately requesting a table at this point is that the salaried bureaucrats within the ASUN, who are trying to justify their jobs and existence, busy themselves by setting up ridiculous policies which actively work against students such as negotiating their club recognition program with other departments on campus. What this means is that certain departments like the dorms, facilities, and buildings and grounds will not let students do certain things without first checking with ASUN to make sure the club is recognized. However, the list of approved clubs in these separate university departments generally have printouts that are months old where the newly recognized club will be denied permission because they are not listed yet. This can be extremely frustrating and prohibiting for individuals who are merely trying to freely express themselves.
For a moment let us assume that this hypothetical group of friends set up a club, found a faculty member, wrote up a perfect constitution that was graciously approved by the commission, and is on the approved list with buildings and grounds to table in the quad. One would think they would now be able to fund raise without further hindrance, but this is not the case since ASUN requires all money collected to be kept with them and their bank accounts. If a club would like to withdraw their own money from this account, members would first have to pay for whatever they are buying up front and then submit receipts to the accountant (who is just so happy to see club members giving her work to do). The accountant would then inspect their receipts to make sure it is detailed enough and then give a reimbursement check in 10-15 working days so long as the items are not on the dreaded ‘no-list’. A double standard exists for fraternities and sororities who are exempt from this rule because they can enjoy the benefits of the club commission and not hold an account with them. These types of policies prohibit students from freely expressing their thoughts and ideas and restrict them from associating with each other in a free manner.
Clearly there is a problem. How many UNR undergraduates wanted money taken from them to be spent on ponies, ammunition, banquets, retreats, and the salaries of all those who actively find ways to increase the same fees that enable them to further enjoy said activities? How many wanted their money to be placed in the hands of other students to act as a “learning experience” for them to do as they wish with it? How many wanted to subject themselves or their fellow colleagues to additional needless iron bureaucracies of the school just so that they may express themselves? Does the ASUN even care that it rewards part-time students at the expense of motivated full-time students who may not have as much time to take advantage of their services through its per-credit fee? Hiding under the banner of democracy, the proponents of the ASUN would argue that undergraduate students wanted this because they were given the opportunity to either run for election to try and change the situation or vote for people who would be able to reflect their similar interests.
But the bureaucrats of the ASUN are being genuinely dishonest. Sandra Rodriguez, the ASUN and Student Activities Center Director, once said during an election season interview that “Students are actually believing in the process… to me, this is young people buying into the process and saying ‘you know what, we want to play a role in the process.’” Even Sandra is shocked that students are “… actually believing in the process…”. What such proponents like her fail to realize is that students never agreed to have such a system established to begin with. Most students did not agree to even have elected officers or salaried staffers taking their money. Evident by the abysmal voter turnout and rampant apathy to the things of the ASUN, it is resoundingly clear that students never agreed to have an election system which allows the ASUN the ability to justify their pursuits.
There is no argument which can logically satisfy the premise the ASUN operates under. Even if the ASUN tried to create a set of policies and procedures which would give them the ability to slash their costs and find more equitable ways of managing their money, it would not work. It cannot work because student governments, like all governments, are based upon force – may it be through the consequence of prison time for not paying taxes or through the consequence of getting kicked out for not paying student fees. Even if the majority of students ‘agreed’ to pay for the fee, the revenues generated could never be spent in an optimally efficient or productive manner because the motives which dictate the allocation of the money are based upon individuals with differing opinions, stances, morals, behaviors and beliefs. Not one individual or even a group of individuals elected or appointed by elected officials could possibly stand a chance at “representing” other vastly different individuals because there is no way they could ever arrive at a fair or efficient outcome that is best for everyone. So long as policies and rules created by some individuals are enforced by threat of punishment upon other individuals, a fair (and consequently voluntary) agreement will never exist. It does not matter if the car has power windows or heated seats so long as cinderblocks are in place preventing the vehicle of voluntary human interaction from performing.
As a result, students are subjected to a never-ending cycle of strife and disagreement with how their money should be spent. The very act of trying to forcefully represent people through an election system is morally wrong and intellectually dishonest. A voting mechanism coercively pushed upon individuals inherently cannot represent correctly. Undergraduate students have jobs to attend, families to be responsible to, and personal things to be accountable with. They do not have the time or the ability to quibble in a system they never agreed to when they started school to begin with. What right did the founders of the ASUN in 1898 have to bind future classes to their Constitution? What if future classes did not want an ASUN to begin with? What students have the ability to create a contract and have future classes bound to it?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Representation and student service was never the primary purpose of the ASUN. Pawns to the Board of Regents, ASUN is used as a special interest lobby group to take tax dollars from the state of Nevada and as a way to create future politicians loyal to UNR. They understand that those who are involved with ASUN are typically politically inclined students who may have an interest in state governance. By treating them to a “learning experience” of a lifetime and a large budget to play with and retreats to go on and parties to attend and food to eat and meetings to feel important at and the power to tell students what to do; they condition, train and motivate future workers of the state to favor UNR. They use the ASUN to lobby the state legislature to create rallies, petitions, and other artificial forms of protest to protect their interests and line their pockets. Justification, and ultimate responsibility to students, is the least of their concerns when the matter of state money is involved.
The ASUN operates under an unjustified premise and have abused the funds they have collected. They offer no solution to the vast majority of students who do not want their money stolen from them and given to other students who will benefit from the “learning experience”. The ASUN has two solutions. The first, and possibly the least obvious and the most unjustified, would be to stop this ridiculous charade of representation. They must quit pretending like they are capable of representing anyone. Rename the institution so that the word “Associated” is not included. Remove the election system altogether and immediately stop trying to expand in areas outside the scope of a dysfunctional, yet operational administrative agency. Although this would not prevent the ASUN from being anymore unjustified, it would allow them to operate in a manner similar to any other school department which does not try to pretend they represent anyone but themselves.
The second more obvious and beneficial solution would be to make the ASUN a voluntary institution which would allow students the ability to opt for their services similar to the Lombardi Gym. If the ASUN believes that they are such a critical asset to campus, there should be no problem making them a voluntary service. Instead of stealing $5 per credit and instituting additional fees on top of that, they should allow students interested in clubs the freedom to invest into their clubs and allow students interested in drinking the freedom to invest into their bars. The only fair way to better the human condition is to let individuals decide how to spend the product of their labor because, as shown with the ASUN, unjustified coercive action and flawed spending is one that must necessarily exist if a government is to. And that aint right.