United no more

Story by Alex Zank & Nate Beck, News Editor & Staff Writer

Student Senate voted to no longer recognize United Council as an official representative body of UW-Eau Claire in a 24-3 vote Monday.

After a half-hour open forum, a presentation from Vice President Patrick Martin about the issue and a debate lasting until nearly 10 p.m., senators finally cast their vote.

Bills are normally voted a week after being introduced, but the rules were suspended as is done on
occasion with time-sensitive bills.

This bill’s passage marks the first time since 2009 Student Senate has gone against a student-wide referendum. In 2011, students decided through a referendum vote to remain in UC.

“We have been staring down the barrel of this discussion for a long time,” Sen. Stephen Kahlow said. “This legislation is a round in the chamber and we have to decide whether or not to pull the trigger.”

141 Days

The White Paper was a formal list of complaints that The Senate filed in September. Martin said during his presentation it took 141 days for a response.

Gathering a response from the 19 other United Council member campuses is a tall order, UC President Geoff Murray said.

“(UC) prides itself on being a student-run, student-led organization,” Murray said. “So, while we could have staff simply read through it and type up a response … we took an intentional view that it needed to be students driving the whole process.”

There was a discussion and evaluation of the White Paper at a December UC convention, Murray said, and a draft response had recently been drafted and distributed.

The final White Paper response was planned to be hammered out at the UC winter retreat in December, but Murray said the retreat was pushed back to late January because of logistical issues.

Seth Hoffmeister, UW-Stevens Point Student Body President said he read through the White Paper and, as the student government leader of a campus that is also a member of UC, he sees the merits in its suggestions but also some problems.

“I think (the White Paper’s suggestions) are all great,” Hoffmeister said. “The things they’re calling for in and of themselves are not bad things … but I feel like the way in which they are trying to go about implementing these changes are a little bit contradictory to how things work.”

Hoffmeister said grievances with an organization like this should be worked out at spaces provided for discussions, such as the UC conventions held.

“When (you are) in a membership organization … you go in, you dig into the meeting, and you talk about that stuff and you try to work with the people that are also in the organization,” he said. “This White Paper seems to usurp the entire process of that.”

Hoffmeister served as the previous president of UC before Murray.

Question of bill’s validity

United Council dues are paid through Mandatory Refundable Fees, these fees are rolled into tuition and are refundable upon individual student request.

Another big question that arose during discussion was whether Student Senate had the authority to overturn the referendum and pull Eau Claire’s funding of UC.

Eau Claire students pay UC through Mandatory Refundable Fees, which are rolled into tuition. MRFs are not part of student segregated fees, which Senate handles.

“(The) student body voted to be members through a Regents policy-based referendum, so the student government doesn’t actually have the capability of (overturning it),” Murray said.

The policy in question is Regent Policy 30-4, which Murray cited as showing the student body, not the Senate, has ultimate authority over what happens with MRF.

Martin claimed Wisconsin State Statute 36.09(5) gives Senate legal authority to determine what happens with this money.
Other senators thought regardless of who has the legal right on their side, the bill was still ignoring student opinion.

“We are here to serve students,” Student Services Commission Director Brianna Burke said. “The last referendum that we had … obviously showed students wanted to be in United Council, so why are we doing this?”

Supporters of the bill argued a referendum is an inaccurate way of judging student opinion. Eau Claire students, supporters argued, are unaware of what UC is or does.

1,912 students voted in the last UC referendum. 470 students voted in the last senate president race.

Past complaints of unprofessionalism

United Council caught flack for showing a partisan bias over the last several years. Zombie protests, sit-in arrests and UC members posing for website photos with Democratic politicians were deemed unprofessional by bill-supporting senators.

UC website photos were removed and similar problems were resolved well before Monday, Murray said.

Student Senate received a conference call from previous Vice President Mark Morgan about the structural and professional problems of United Council.

Morgan said he served on the board for United Council in 2011, and he resigned because of “ridiculous” behavior by members of the board during the budget protests.

“After my resignation… it only spiraled out of control,  from being arrested in Washington D.C. very publicly while protesting Sallie Mae, which was done on student dollars,” Morgan said.

Eau Claire joins six other colleges in the UW system that have chosen not to be represented by United Council. Eau Claire is the largest campus not represented by the organization.

“We have everything to lose, this is a lobbying organization that works for us specifically,” sophomore Paul Savides said. “United Council is a team of organizers and leaders who try and work with organizations on this campus.”

Martin said the bill’s legalities will be determined by the UW Board of Regents. Students may still be obligated to pay United Council dues, despite the senate decision.