Councilmember Gordon Wozniak says getting the City Council involved in controversial student elections at UC Berkeley is council business as usual, but others say it is an attack on the independence of student government.
The resolution, on tonight’s (Tuesday) council agenda, “recognizes the election of the four Student Action executive officers … in a free and fair ASUC [Associated Students of the University of California] Election.” (Student Action is a UC Berkeley political party.)
The April student elections are in dispute. Student Action apparently swept the races for executive offices. However, the party was accused of chalking the names of candidates close to the polls in violation of ASUC rules and then giving false testimony about it.
It is up to the ASUC Judicial Council to rule on the question—the council ruled in opposition to Student Action; the party appealed the decision July 18. Attempts by Student Action presidential candidate Oren Gabriel to take his case to the Alameda County Superior Court was kicked back to the Judicial Council by the judge. The Judicial Council is now weighing the appeal.
“We comment all the time about injustices around the world,” Wozniak said, arguing for the propriety of his resolution. “This is a travesty of justice.”
Allegations against Student Action constitute a “minor infraction” that went before the Judicial Council, Wozniak said. “It was a valid election run by the League of Women Voters.”
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, however, characterized the council’s proposed involvement as an “affront to independent student government.” And he characterized the resolution as “a cynical manipulative ploy” to pit students against each other in order to win votes in the November election. (Wozniak is running against Jason Overman, a UC Berkeley student and Rent Stabilization Board member.)
Lauren Karasek of the SQUELCH! Party, who ran against Gabriel for ASUC president, said of the council resolution: “I’m very concerned about the implications for student autonomy. Berkeley’s always prided itself on its independence.”
Karasek condemned as further erosion of student autonomy the part of the resolution that asks the council to write to the chancellor saying that Student Action had won fairly. The judicial process is continuing, Karasek said.
Karasek characterized Student Action as a “major party” on campus and said SQUELCH! is more like a “third party,” which critiques the system through humor. She said the party has condemned Student Action for using student government funds to promote their own activities rather than supporting activities of campus organizations. Election results showed Oren Gabriel with 4,014 votes and Karasek with 1,434.
An editorial by Van S. Nguyen, in-coming ASUC senator from the CalSERVE party, that appeared in Monday’s Daily Cal, also condemned the resolution:
“With the wave of a pen, one Berkeley politician has potentially wiped out 40 years of the students’ struggle for the protection of our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and press ... The intervention of the city in ASUC elections would not only be an insult to the more than 30,000 students at UC Berkeley, but also a denial of students’ power over their own government.”
Student Action, Oren Gabriel and Jason Chu, a Student Action candidate for vice president, did not return e-mailed requests for interviews for this story.