Being for the benefit of the associated students of SMC

Every semester students pay their fees, assuming they are mandatory. Some indeed are but there is at least one fee that you can actually ask to be refunded even with a full class load: The ASB (Associated Student body) membership fee. This is an option only taken by 255 students so far this semester.

It’s paid in conjunction with the Student ID (or what the administration would prefer to call a Universal Access Card) but you can actually visit the office of the Associated Students on the second floor of the Cayton Center and ask to be refunded its $19.50 price, from the $32.50 total sum students are charged for the ID/sticker combo.

Last year’s Associated Students board fought hard over several public meetings and with administration over changing the language of the fees in order for students to have the option to opt out of paying an AS fee. Would that be a great business move considering their financial budget’s dependence on student fees? Probably not, but it seemed a noble effort from a board of self-professed do-gooders.

AS membership fees are presided over by the AS board of directors and their annual budget. Think of membership fees as the taxes we pay to them, for they are a local form of government. In our SMC microcosm of governance, the AS board is the city level while administration, Board of Trustees, is like the state level. The ICC branch of AS made up of a colorful collective of clubs would be like districts, representing different subsets of students and their constituents/special interests.

Club members often become the most involved in student government, with current board of directors hailing from such various clubs as TEDx SMC, German Club, Black Collegians Club, Eco Action, and even Crafting Club. With approximately 800 students involved in clubs and 17,000 students paying AS membership fees as of August 5, that’s a lot of money for students in campus government to look over, even under administrative guidance.

Recently the District Attorney of Los Angeles ruled that last semester’s Elections Committee committed violations of the Brown Act. Whether unwittingly or purposefully, it was done under the guidance of advisors, and is a large oversight on the part of the AS, particularly of the ICC, whose Chair Jasmine Jafari was the leader of said committee.

It was also revealed during last week’s bi-weekly ICC meeting by current vice-chair Courtney King, that last semester’s Club Row event committed a number of health code violations, though they were confirmed by the AS to be related mostly to lack of paperwork for items sold and food distribution rules that were unknown to the ICC leaders who organized the event.

These all just serve as points to recognize that no matter what responsibilities and powers are beholden to the AS board of directors, they are still students who are learning and are being guided. On a yearly basis a new board is ushered in under the guidance of the deans of Student Life, and no matter how bright and prospective the students may be, they are still inexperienced novices.

The most recent and glaring example of this are the attempts by this year’s board to become an auxiliary organization and battle early in the semester over approving the budget which even led to a flustered, negative reaction from George Prather, director of Auxiliary services.

Through these problems and constant scrutiny, they have to navigate through our funding, which amounts to approximately $428,000 annually, and that’s not including their restricted budget.

To paraphrase Beyonce, something is bound to go down when there’s a million dollars on an elevator.

These students who put themselves up for an average of 1,200 votes a semester and win directors positions go through a lot of paperwork and one week-long (or less) retreat and are expected to not only delegate a budget, but abide by strict legal code of order, which passing knowledge of is still not enough to escape scrutiny.

They all go in, presumably, wanting to make a difference, and in the end leave jaded due to voter turnout, rigid bureaucratic rules, and of having to compromise; a true test in the real political world through and through.

You’re probably wondering what actually happens to the budget money. A great deal of it goes to organizing public club events and providing food for them. Those membership fees also pay for such AS benefits as discounted movie tickets and the ever popular free Big Blue Bus contract, which administration pays half of and AS pays the other half, some years even more. A year ago, the AS even found itself funding a winter session, covering costs of employment to several professors. They even paid $20,000, matching donations, for Global Motion to visit and perform in China.

Last semester’s board took a very vocal stand in asking “What isn’t AS paying for?” They challenged every department’s funding proposal, even asking in meetings why administration isn’t taking care of the funding of its departments, instead suggesting that departments go to AS to ask for funding on such things as Job Fairs and College Fairs.

During this period, that board also spent $350,000 renovating the Cayton Center lounge, now marked by round furniture and open spaces, and their own offices. Numerous leads and digging through the numbers led the Corsair to determine that the renovation cost so much because of the level of quality in furniture the board was seeking, and not because of any extravagant $5,000 couches which various sources on campus alleged, the most expensive furniture pieces rested at about $2,000.

Outside of that, last semester’s board also set aside $100,000 to spend towards the Student Success Awards, which were presented to students who the board’s judges felt worthy of financial reward for their efforts as members of the campus community.

These all seem like great use of our funding, but they also put a significant amount of budget money into projects exclusively of the AS. Their recent, three-day summer retreat clocked in at a reported $15,000 after being reduced from an original $22,476.16 price tag proposed by Associated Dean of Student Life Sonali Bridges. These are General Assembly meetings where student government bodies from all California community colleges gather to discuss the politics of their school and the state, and for lobbying the state.

Yes our student governance lobbies the state. They visit state senators to impress their views upon them in hopes that they support Proposition This or Measure That or Bill the Other. This may seem surprising to most unfamiliar with the AS, but they carry much pride in their lobbying on the state level.

Knowing of their lobbying activities, one must ask if you haven’t yet, do these people really represent our interests as transit students? On a base level, would you really be more interested in promoting community involvement and helping out underfunded departments or sending students to talk to senators about about political issues that have no immediate connection to our campus life?