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Student leaders must speak up

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SEPTEMBER 17, 2013

This spring, students voted for a bold new vision for the ASUC. Assumptions were challenged, an entrenched majority was uprooted and new voices were chosen to breathe life into our student government.

I campaigned as a student, an activist and an advocate. I was democratically elected to serve as executive vice president because of my experience and conviction. Though former Senators Mihir Deo and Rosemary Hua advance their own personal vision for the EVP position, (“Pack’s non-neutrality hurts ASUC,” Sept. 13) neither was elected to serve in this role. Their excessively narrow interpretation of the EVP’s role does not reflect the letter or the spirit of our governing documents and effectively undermines the vote of the student body.

It’s important for the EVP to take a stance on matters presented to the senate if she or he feels that an issue warrants such a response. In fact, I praise last year’s EVP, Justin Sayarath, for taking a stand in October against Measure S, which would have banned sitting on public sidewalks in Berkeley. Sayarath not only co-authored a letter to the Berkeley City Council urging them to not support the measure, but he also cosponsored my bill — SB 64 — that opposed Measure S when it came before the Senate. It’s fascinating that former Senators Deo and Hua demand silence from the EVP today, since they never expressed such concerns last year, when that seat was held by a member of their own party.

It’s important that we use consistent standards for our elected officials, regardless of which party holds a given office. The EVP is charged with ensuring that the ASUC as an institution is transparent and accountable. My experience as an activist and an advocate informs my work as EVP regarding important decisions about how we manage our spaces on campus and how we as a university embrace our role in combating environmental degradation. As I maintain stances on many issues that are external to the ASUC, I recognize that critical self-reflection can be the most powerful catalyst for driving change.

In my role as chair of the ASUC senate, I envision the Senate as a space where real work can get done — where there is open and productive dialogue, where all voices are included and where our elected senators can voice independent opinions about issues on which they may disagree. This is how good public policy is produced. I offer my understanding of the Senate and my experience with parliamentary procedure to help move the discussion forward and allow senators to confront the real issues at hand. The EVP is tasked with ensuring that all senators have the opportunity to participate in straightforward discussion on the Senate floor and are ultimately empowered to cast an informed vote.

It’s necessary to create a space for discussion among senators that is informed by public comments from students-at-large and allows senators to think critically about the decisions before them. As EVP, I strive to create this kind of space in each Senate meeting.

The ASUC Senate is the final legislative and fiscal authority in our student government. It has the ability to take official positions on behalf of the ASUC and direct the executive officers to enforce those decisions. That relationship does not function in reverse. I believe strongly in the autonomy of the Senate and respect the Senate as a branch of the ASUC that is distinct from the executive offices.

Similarly, I believe that each senator must take ownership of the decisions she or he makes and the votes she or he casts. I believe that our senators have the maturity to come to the table with open minds and engage each other in frank discussion to resolve points of disagreement.

As elected officials, the senators answer to the campus community. All of our student communities have the right to come to a meeting and see how their senators are representing them. A public discussion that is accessible to students is the best way to encourage honesty and transparency, instead of political point-scoring or gamesmanship. We must come together around common values when we agree; we must be both civil and honest with one another when we don’t.

The EVP’s stance on a given issue can and does coexist with the stances of other elected officials. While I have disagreed with past and present colleagues on a range of policy issues and have been critical of the stances they took, I have never attempted to deny any ASUC official the right to express her or his opinion on an issue. I stand by the assertion that we can all take stances and that when we do, we should expect to be held accountable for them. Criticism and honest disagreement are necessary for promoting intellectual diversity in the Senate. None of us in the ASUC should expect to be comfortable with every differing view that’s expressed or with every piece of criticism we receive. It is this discomfort that forces serious self-reflection and reconsideration of assumptions and beliefs, and it is through this regular re-evaluation that we make progress together.

I leave you, the readers, with these wise words from Elie Weisel: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Nolan Pack is the ASUC executive vice president.

Contact Nolan Pack at 


SEPTEMBER 17, 2013