A “United” Council of UW Students?

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the United Council of UW Students’ Convention at UW Marshfield/Wood County (a big thank you to Nicole G and UW Marshfield for hosting). For those of you who don’t know, UC is our statewide student association, charged with advocating for students from all 26 UW System schools. For the past year, I have served on UC’s Board of Directors representing the Research Caucus (UW-Madison and Milwaukee); however, I resigned the week before the convention to focus on other commitments, so this was the first weekend where I could fully participate as a general member. This was also the most productive and empowering convention in the past two years.

For the past year, I’ve had my reservations about the future of UC as an effective organization. Coming off of a major constitutional restructuring 4 groups emerged, each trying to find its role and responsibilities. The first and most constant group is the staff, mostly recent graduates, who are the real workhorses of UC. On paper their role is to ensure that the organization runs. The next is the Board of Directors, 11 students representing different UW schools, and the Coalition Action Council, which I’ll talk about later. In the Constitution, the Board is charged with setting the priorities and policies for the organization. The third group is the student executives, (President, Vice President, and Secretary) charged with carrying out policies, and representing UC. The fourth group is the Coalition Action Council, consisting of Task Forces which general members can join to start their own side projects under UC.

While this structure seems to work fine on paper, in effect policy is created and implemented by the staff, with the Board relegated to making buttons, helping plan logistics for conferences and conventions, and contacting System schools to make sure they stay/become members. (We also gave a ceremonial stamp of approval to the budget, despite my very vocal objections, and without reviewing memberships costing over $75,000 as required by our own rules). The student executives have spent their time mostly trying to purge the organization of members they don’t like, pretending to be Brett Favre, and failing at running meetings, but that’s neither here nor there. All of this has caused tension and a power struggle between people who see the possibility of making the new constitutional model work, and those who would rather go back to the old identity group-based system. (Keep in mind that the former model caused schools to leave and not waste money because of the feeling that UC did not represent the opinions of their students, whereas the new model has the greatest potential to allow UC to represent the interest of all students by focusing on shared gov, tuition, financial aid, and other issues).

When I first started in UC, I was most concerned about the Task Forces, which seemed to be the way for any small interest group to use student money and resources to push whatever agenda they wanted. While the rest of the organization was struggling to simply find enough resources to function, the idea of task forces forming to further limit the resources by working on issues that had put the organization in the position it was in the first place scared me as a Board member. This past convention though, has put to rest my fears that UC will be ineffective in the next few years.

To my surprise, the task forces are the places where ASM’s “Get Shit Done” mentality has really taken hold. Through working on Shared Governance issues at the system and campus levels, students might actually have a true voice when things like changes in the transfer student policy which are being discussed (instead of as an afterthought which happened this year). Speaking of transfer students, of which many UW-Colleges students will be, there is a task force focusing on their issues, led by TJ Radey and Trisha France from UW-Green Bay, with other schools coordinating. The Sustainability Task force is working to bring students together to make UW greener and cost efficient, and the UW Colleges online task force will be ensuring that students have full shared gov rights within the online system.

In the financial aid task force, my own brainchild, we have a large number of students from all over the state who are geared up and ready to hit the state budget cycle running. We’re looking into establishing a state-wide work study program, increasing childcare tuition assistance, and trying to simplify financial aid application processes. I’m extremely proud of Dan for stepping up to lead this, and I’m excited to work more closely with Kim B. from Marinette and Nik R. from Waukesha, my fellow vice-chairs to enact these projects. We have already met with Governor Walker’s staff to open conversations about work study programs and will go into this weekend’s convention with policy papers already drawn up.

The Board of Directors may continue to flounder on aimlessly, and the executives may continue to do whatever the hell it is that they do, but UC’s effectiveness at the statewide level will continue to increase as long as the energy felt in the task forces continues into the next convention and beyond.

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