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Davis

Davis, California

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Guest opinion

A veto is worth … ignoring 12 senatorial votes? Negating three hours of thoughtful discussion? Throwing five students into debt? Misrepresenting facts and manipulating the public?

For ASUCD President Jack Zwald, the answer is all of the above.

On April 15, Zwald vetoed Senate Bill No. 53, “An ASUCD Senate Bill to allocate $580 to Students for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA).” According to Zwald’s written statement, the veto was enacted on the grounds that while voting, the senate had not “understood the ramifications” of this piece of legislation.

Zwald attempted to use the concept of “viewpoint neutrality” and claimed that by allotting funds for five students to attend a rally, conference and museum exhibit in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), ASUCD Senate would become legally bound to fund any political or partisan group that presents a funding request in the future.

Not only does this understanding of viewpoint neutrality seriously misconstrue the legal precedent that informs the rights and obligations of any governing body, but Zwald’s limited understanding of the concept shows thoughtlessness as to the ramifications of pulling promised funding from a student group. Zwald’s claims regarding precedent rested not on solid legal counsel, but on the vague claim of “talking with a lawyer,” whose name and exact statement Zwald and former ASUCD justice Rudy Ornelas refused to disclose.

Despite urges from the senate table and the public to override the veto on the basis of its inaccurate understanding of legal precedent, and additional hopes to table the vote until further legal research could be made, the senate failed to override the veto. ASUCD will now pull the $580 promised to students, all of whom had already left for Florida before the veto was enacted.

An accurate understanding of viewpoint neutrality reveals that funding one student group, whose actions happen to have a particular political or religious viewpoint, does not obligate ASUCD Senate to fund similar requests in the future so long as the senate’s decision is based on factors other than the group’s ideologies or affiliations.

According to an article written by Jordan Lorence, senior counselor for the Alliance Defense Fund, “Any student organization at a state school that is denied funding because of its views can sue claiming viewpoint discrimination.” This precedent exists whether or not previous funding has been given to political or religious groups in the past.

The senate might have been put in a dangerous legal situation if its decision about granting funding to the SSA had been made based on endorsing the group’s political beliefs. The decision was made, however, on the grounds that further education around issues of human rights violations, especially the ways in which those violations relate to food production on our campus, would enrich the educational experience of UC Davis undergraduates.

In both his veto letter and his statements during the senate meeting, Zwald provided no evidence to prove that the process taken by ASUCD had violated this viewpoint neutral basis for decision-making. The only precedent that this bill – and the subsequent veto – has set for ASUCD is that students cannot trust the funding promises of the association.

As The California Aggie rightfully noted in its April 15 editorial regarding SB No. 53, ASUCD must make funding decisions based on a “direct benefit for all undergraduates.” What was clear through the lengthy April 8 discussion held before passing the funding bill is that the senate determined the education and experience received by five on-campus student leaders at the conference would have a far-reaching positive impact on UC Davis undergraduates.

Recently, ASUCD passed a bill supporting the inclusion of gender-neutral restrooms in the construction plans for the new MU and another bill funding video podcasting in Chemistry 194 and Sciences Lecture Hall 123. These bills were passed not because they will be accessed by all undergraduates, but because they will generally enrich the student experience on this campus. Funding priorities given to particular services shifts the UC Davis campus climate, and ASUCD Senate has the job of determining what services they see as positively impacting student life. These are the appropriate guidelines under which bills should be examined. Zwald should have respected the senate’s decision-making, rather than minimizing it as having been thoughtless.

ASUCD senators should not have let the faulty and unsubstantiated content of Zwald’s veto stand. This blatant failure to seek out viable information before entering a voting process is reason enough to seriously question the competency of many on the senate table. Though Zwald should never have submitted a veto with such little understanding for the concepts on which he claimed his opinion, it is the responsibility of the senate to demand accurate knowledge before entering a voting process on any veto or bill submitted to the table.

4 COMMENTS

  1. There are many things wrong with this critique of Zwald’s veto so I will just run down the list.

    1. Not understanding the situation

    Laura criticizes Zwald several times for vetoing the bill despite not knowing what is going on, which is funny as Laura couldn’t even finish her first sentence without incorrectly citing the facts. As The Aggie’s senate briefs confirm (http://theaggie.org/article/2010/04/12/asucd-senate-briefs) the original bill barely passed with 8 votes not 12 Laura claims it passed by. (also note that 8 is the minimum needed to pass a funding bill)

    2. Blaming ASUCD for last minute funding shortfalls and lack of discussion.

    It is absurd to blame ASUCD for either the debt of those 5 students or the confusion that occurred during the senate meeting as that ignores the fact that the students were the ones responsible for providing the information and more importantly the time for ASUCD to handle their proposal.

    It was arrogant and irresponsible for the students to assume that they could walk in with a social issue that had but fleeting relevance to the student body and expect it to be immediately passed with flying colors. ASUCD has a process to ensure that student money is handed out fairly and responsibly and it was the fault of those 5 students for introducing the bill late and not allowing it to go through the commission process. The senate relies on the commissioners for informational and critical review of all legislation. While the commission chairs are there during the meetings to give input it is unfair to expect students to be able to evaluate all of the complex issues with this bill with it no heads up. If these students had been responsible and introduced the bills say a month earlier they would have been able to clear up these issues.

    3. Improper comparisons

    Also your comparison between this bill and the gender neutral bathrooms and podcasting in major lecture halls grossly skews the magnitude of the bill’s impact on the student body. You give no evidence or citation in your letter about how the trip would “far-reaching positive impact on UC Davis undergraduates” aside from “it was established at the previous meeting”, which is entertaining as you critique Zwald for using equally vague reasoning when he mentioned that he got his information on view point neutrality from “talking with a lawyer”. And as the mistake in the first sentence of your letter proves your memory of that meeting is either hazy or non-existent I going to hold your claim of how the bill would benefit the greater student body suspect. You then compare the bill to the bathroom and podcasting projects as if to say “These reasons that these two bills were passed were the same as the plane ticket bill”. The gender neutral bathroom and podcasting bills provide immeasurably more student benefit through greater social equality and educational resources than the plane ticket bill. I use The Aggie’s coverage (http://theaggie.org/article/2010/04/19/vetoed-senate-bill-leaves-five-students-with-inadequate-funding) of the issue as evidence. Sodexo is already underway with talks with CIW to fix the pay issue and the CIW tomatoes make up a paltry sum of the total campus tomato intake.

    Good Point: To be fair to your critique of the situation I will also mention the good point you made in your letter: That viewpoint neutrality might exist no matter how the senate voted and so wasn’t a reason to fail/veto it. I say “might” because Zwald found a different lawyer who disagreed with Lorence and a review of the issue would have had to occur to figure out which interpretation was correct. And as pointed out in section 2 above, it was the fault of the 5 students for not introducing the bill early enough and not Zwald or the Senate for how there was insufficient time to sort through the facts.

  2. @GM

    Hold your horses here. You’re saying the government is making these “poor students”…”pay for OTHERS mistakes”. Are you on some kind of hallucinogen? If anything, the senators who voted in favour of this bill should be penalised and made to reimburse the students. You’re off on a limb with no wellies and the storm has come. Think before you comment on this so I don’t have to weed through your pathetic drivel. As for the author of this letter, shame on you. Then again, I’m sure you want to go to some protest about the treatment of dairy bovine in the eastern realms of Canada. Would love to see your proposal to the ASUCD for that one, love.

    TJM

  3. Yeah! How dare people assume that the ASUCD will stick to their resolutions. Bill shmill, it doesn’t really mean anything right?

    Funny how government always makes the people pay for OTHERS mistakes.

    This is obscene. I hope the poor students get their money back.

  4. The only reason people are in debt is because they planned poorly and counted their chickens before they hatched. Their fault.

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