Arizona Board of Regents holds meeting to discuss statewide students’ association fee

USGD President Joseph Grossman, center, resigned from his position on the Arizona Students’ Association’s Board of Directors in late September. (Connor Radnovich/DD)

The Arizona Board of Regents met with student leaders from all three universities Wednesday to discuss the future of the $2 fee students pay to the Arizona Students’ Association every semester.

Rick Myers, chair of the Board of Regents, said a large number of students raised concerns over the fee and ASA, putting the issue on the board’s radar.

“For many years the regents weren’t looking at this, and it wasn’t being judged in any way,” Myers said. “The fact that ASU students took this action prompted the regents to take a step back and say ‘what’s going on’ and reassess the situation.”

Myers made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that its purpose was to be an open discussion with student leaders and said a decision would be made regarding the fee at the next regents’ meeting on Nov. 26.

Those present at the meeting included all the undergraduate government presidents from ASU, UA and NAU, as well as the graduate student presidents from ASU and UA.

Despite the recent allegations of ineffectiveness and wrongdoing by ASA, outlined primarily in a report by the Goldwater Institute, Myers said the board’s focus was to determine the appropriateness of giving money to an organization the board has no fiduciary duty over.

“We aren’t judging actions from ASA; that’s not what this is about,” Myers said. “This is really about this board looking at this model and judging the appropriateness of that and at the same time balancing the fact that we do recognize the importance of student voice.”

NAU’s student government passed a resolution in support of ASA and the $2 fee two weeks ago because ASA helps the university lobby at the state capitol, NAU student body President Sammy Smart said.

“As far as NAU and UA are concerned, we don’t have the ability to come down to the capitol each week, like ASU does with their policy department,” Smart said. “With ASA, our board members are able to come together and train our interns to effectively lobby at the capitol on behalf of all of our students.”

UA student body President Katy Murray agreed that there are flaws in ASA’s system, but she said it represents the greater good of the three universities and should be maintained.

One possible course of action discussed at the meeting was changing the fee to become optional for each student, creating an opt-in system.

ASU’s Downtown student government President Joseph Grossman was against the opt-in system saying ASA should be treated like any other third-party organization.

ASU’s graduate student President Rhian Stotts, who currently remains on ASA’s Board of Directors, also said she wouldn’t support the opt-in system because it would force the organization to spend all their time fundraising rather than working for students.

Murray said the opt-in system would kill the organization.

Dennis DeConcini, secretary for the Board of Regents and former U.S. Senator for Arizona, said he doesn’t see the problem with students having the choice to pay the fee.

“You have to go sell yourself to the people,” DeConcini said. “If you sell it, then they’re going to say, ‘Yes, I opt in.’ If you can’t sell it, because there’s disagreement here on the campus, then that’s what democracy is about in my opinion. It’s not that difficult of a situation.”

Regent Jay Heiler questioned the appropriateness of a mandatory student fee used to fund activities that may not be seen as a success to a significant number of students, referencing the $100,000 donated to the recently rejected Proposition 204.

Stotts said ASA’s Board of Directors is currently discussing extending the short window of time students have to ask for a refund of their $2.

DeConcini said ASA has proved extremely effective for all universities throughout the years and cited ASA as the reason there are student regents on the board.

“You’ve got something that worked here and it may be slightly broken or needs tuning, but it seems low to just not fund them anymore,” DeConcini said.

Grossman rebutted, claiming that the structure of student government has changed with the times and that ASA is no longer necessary to lobby or represent students.

DeConcini also questioned the decision of the ASU student governments to bring the issue to the board rather than have a student referendum.

Grossman said the student government gauged student support of ASA through a poll that ran last month — the results of which are not yet released — and through social media. He also referenced a 30-page task force report from the Tempe student government describing ASA’s ineffectiveness.

Stotts said she believes more transparency and less oversight of how the funds are spent is the first step toward a solution, stating that GPSA posts its bills and budget online.

The Nov. 26 deadline for making a decision worried Stotts, and she said thorough research should be conducted to determine the best course of action.

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Correction: Nov. 8, 2012

An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the last name of Dennis DeConcini in one instance. The misspelling has been corrected.