Student gov. requests autonomy

ASPSU President Courtney Morse led a group of student body leaders in a discussion with university President Daniel Bernstine Wednesday over a proposal designed to fundamentally change the structure of student government.

ASPSU President Courtney Morse led a group of student body leaders in a discussion with university President Daniel Bernstine Wednesday over a proposal designed to fundamentally change the structure of student government.

The nine-page proposal outlines three possible changes to current student government structure, including independent legal counsel for the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) and less administrative red tape over budget issues.

A key request of the proposal asks that student government be able to retain independent legal counsel in cases when ASPSU and the university administration have conflicting interests.

Currently, all university entities have access to legal counsel through the Department of Justice. However, there are Oregon administrative rules that prevent ASPSU from paying outside legal counsel with student fee funds to help resolve administrative conflicts.

“Currently, us not being able to retain our own legal counsel is a huge contradiction in our ability to advocate for students,” said University Affairs Director Hannah Fisher. “How can we advocate for students when we have to use the university’s lawyer?”

This kind of legal counsel, Fisher said, would always side with the university.

Bernstine said at the May 23 meeting that any proposal dealing with changing legal advice methods would have to be approved by the Department of Justice before the president could approve it.

The proposal was drafted by a group of students including Morse, student body Vice President Jesse Bufton, ASPSU State Affairs Director Patrick Beisell and Fisher.

Gaining more fiscal autonomy may also prove challenging for ASPSU. Bernstine, Dean of Students Wendy Endress and Student Activities and Leadership Programs (SALP) Director Tonantzin Oceguera showed little support for a suggestion to give student government administrative directors their own direct billing number.

A direct billing number would allow ASPSU to interact directly with the PSU Business Office, rather than SALP advisors.

Supporters of the proposal are hopeful that this would allow student government members to “rent cars without having to wade through additionally unnecessary bureaucracy.”

Citing increased oversight to spending across the university, Bernstine said he was wary about allowing ASPSU more spending freedom.

“I’m a little queasy about supporting that without some expert saying it’s okay,” Bernstine said.

Beisell said that it usually requires two weeks notice to rent a car, and ASPSU would have missed several key hearings in Salem throughout the year if it were not for student government members that owned cars.

“With our own billing number we could do that in a matter of days,” Beisell said.

Bernstine said that ASPSU would have to first work with Lindsay Desrochers, PSU vice president of finance and administration, to effect any change to the current fiscal policy.

The proposal also asks that the policy for advising the Student Fee Committee (SFC) be changed, replacing Endress and Oceguera with a designee from the budget office.

The proposal also said the SFC guidelines state the vice provost for student affairs is required to advise the SFC, rather than the dean of students.

The student government representatives presented the proposal in hopes that Bernstine, Oceguera and Endress would sign a pre-written letter endorsing the concept of a more independent student government.

Bernstine declined to sign the letter and asked Morse to write an additional letter that clearly articulates the need for changes to the student government structure. He volunteered to respond to that letter when he receives it.

“My questions are related to the broader implications,” Bernstine said. “There are questions about intermediary steps that could address those other questions. The rules that govern ASPSU govern other institutions of the state.”

While Morse called the meeting a “baby step,” others were hoping for the president’s endorsement before he leaves his job June 15.

“We need a catalyst, and the catalyst would be Bernstine saying he supports that idea. That’s all we were looking for,” Fisher said. “He wasn’t even willing to say that.”

Bernstine said the ideas were worth exploring, despite his refusal to officially endorse the proposal.

“I wasn’t trying to be evasive,” he said, “but there are questions that need to be addressed.”

Pushing these changes through has been a long-term goal of the Morse/Bufton administration, according to Bufton.

“These problems stem from as long as I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s the mission of this organization to advocate for students. If there are particular policies in place that are keeping us from doing that I think it’s important for us to try and change those policies.”