Opinion: Greater oversight needed to hold ASCSU accountable to students

Sean Kennedy

Student officials in the Associated Students of Colorado State University are elected to represent the student community at Colorado State University and strive to meet the expectations that come with managing millions of dollars in the student fees of their peers. However, there needs to be greater oversight to ensure the organization’s accountability and transparency with students, as they are currently failing to meet even their own expectations set forth in governing documents.

As a student, I generally trust our student government to use and allocate its funding from student fees responsibly, but this trust wavers when I cannot access any records as to how my money is being spent. The majority of ASCSU’s accountability issues lie in data reporting, as they seem to lack both effective transparency measures as well as the oversight to see their own procedures through.

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For example, ASCSU does not provide information on their account balances on their website, instead opting to occasionally include the information in updates to recipients on their e-mail list. There is no disclosure of budgetary information or similar documents easily accessible to the public in any form. ASCSU does post minutes from Student Fee Review Board meetings on their website, but they have not been updated for the current semester.

On the face of it, this substandard level of data reporting seems like it could be an easy fix. Student government could update its standards to reflect public need for information on their budget and their meetings, satisfying students and journalists alike. However, the issue extends beyond a lack of policy, as ASCSU’s current data reporting practices (or lack thereof) violate their own constitution.

According to the ASCSU Constitution, student government is required to submit data to the Archives and Special Collections Department in the Morgan Library on an annual basis for preservation, including all passed or tabled legislation, meeting agendas and minutes for its legislative, judiciary and executive branches, and other documents considered “critical” to their operation (which likely include budgets). The Collegian has found that, excluding a copy of the 2012 bill that amended their constitution to include this requirement, the most recent material the Archives has from ASCSU is data from the 2008-2009 administration.

One might look at this lack of accountability for data reporting and dismiss it as only an issue for journalists, but the fact is that student government’s apparent organization-wide ignorance of its own constitution has caused real, tangible problems that have resulted in more than frustrated reporters — student money may have even been wasted in some instances.

For example, a bill was passed last semester to amend the constitution to create a Senate Budgetary Committee that would begin meeting in summer to provide oversight on their budget.  However, the committee was killed in early December after it was determined that not only was the bill creating it never signed by the ASCSU president at the time, there was never a section in the bill for the president to sign, essentially making the legislation void. Because of this, the Senate Budgetary Committee ran for months despite not actually existing because the legislation that was passed to create it was never correctly constructed or legally binding.

The lack of oversight in this situation is mind-boggling and I don’t understand how an organization can have such poor communication between its departments that it overlooks the reporting standards of its own constitution or runs oversight committees without ascertaining that they formally created the groups first. As a journalist, this frustrates me because it makes my colleagues’ jobs much harder than it has to be. As a student, this concerns me because it calls into serious question how effectively my student fees are being spent. But most of all, as a community member, this saddens me because it lessens the trust and support for what could be a very beneficial campus organization.

I’ve heard many student government representatives lament the difficulty of getting students on campus interested and engaged with student government, but with the current accountability issues and lack of sufficient oversight, I can’t say that I blame them. How can student government expect to communicate its message to students, when it struggles to communicate with itself? ASCSU requires greater oversight or perhaps even structural change to assure far greater transparency with and accountability to the campus community as a whole, because their current practices threaten their very legitimacy.

Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.