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.