“What does ASPSU do?”
When asked this seemingly straightforward question, students were somewhere between stumped and snarky.
“Stuff…? What is this for, why are you asking,” one student replied. “What DO they do? Are they in charge of money, somehow?”
Another struggled to explain what the Student Fee Committee did, and another said it was just another line on a resume. “Not make quorum,” was another strong response.
Perhaps the closest and most realistic response was from one student who replied briefly, “Communicates with the Board of Trustees on behalf of students.”
What does ASPSU do?
“ASPSU is the primary student voice and student representation,” said Assistant Dean of Student Life, Student Activities and Leadership Aimee Shattuck. “The two ways that I think are most essential…are appointing students to all university committees and representing students in these formalized ways throughout the university, and the second way is through the allocation of the student fee.”
Putting it a little more succinctly, “ASPSU is the governing body of the students and representatives of their voice to the [PSU] administration and community,” said Coordinator of Student Government Relations and Greek Life Adviser Candace Avalos.
“The biggest thing that ASPSU does is they allocate the student fee,” Avalos continued. “They are responsible for allocating to which department and student groups student fee dollars go, that incidental fee of [$221, as of Spring 2017] you pay every quarter. They’re also responsible for putting people in seats on different committees that represent different issues on campus.”
Given the importance of what ASPSU does, there’s a little bit more under the hood than just what students may see at first blush. Therefore it’s important that the impact of the group’s work is not understated.
“The potential impact is large, and it depends on the year, it depends on what ASPSU’s initiatives are,” Shattuck explained. “It depends on if they focus on that very much, it depends on if they realize that as a power that they hold, and it depends on the coordination in the organization of that year’s ASPSU.”
“In an ideal way, the way that I’ve seen it work the most, they realize this a power that they hold, and a way to amplify the voice of students,” Shattuck said.
Although most students coming into the group are new to politics, ASPSU is not left to fend for itself. “It takes a ton of work to go out and find students who kind of show up, and [then] coach them and train them and mentor them to actually show up, and get the information back,” Shattuck said. “It’s hard because you have a student or a number of students on a committee, but do they represent all of ASPSU? How do they know what the student body feels? So helping students who are on those committees have those skills and do that well communicate back so the senate knows what’s going on, then that can inform their initiatives for the year.”
So, WHAT does ASPSU DO?
The question of increasing student engagement is a tricky one for SALP.
“It would be great to have a sense of spirit and excitement around things like elections,” Shattuck lamented. “If there’s more students involved and there’s more students running in elections, that means there’s more students talking to more students. It’s this ripple effect, and that means that more students even know what’s happening or know why they should even vote, and even that minimum level of engagement if you have more people running, more people vote.”
Recent years have seen voting among the PSU student body in the single digits, hitting 5% with margins narrow enough to make the waitlist cutoff. This year may be an even more dire situation, with no real contest and very little interest.
“You have a year where there’s no contested seats, and there’s not even enough people to fill all of the seats if they’re all elected,” Shattuck explained. “That means that not as many people are going to vote, that means that not as many people know what’s happening in student government, that means that there’s not as many people who are going to volunteer to be on these committees or get involved in other ways.”
In that respect it’s important to recognize in basic terms what the ASPSU actually does.
What ASPSU does:
Spends YOUR money: ASPSU gets a cut of your fees. That $221-or-so, which varies and is going up every term? They get to spend it. Here at the Vanguard we told you all about that.
Tells the Board of Trustees and president what “we” think: When only a few people vote and fewer still run, then the “we” that gets represented to the BOT and President of the school is a small pool. That’s not a diverse set of opinions representing your needs, is it?
Advocates on our behalf regarding tuition issues: They’re paid (usually) to sit and discuss tuition increases with school representatives and the BOT. Do you have a say? So do they, and it’s louder than yours.
Seats and sits on committees covering diverse issues: ASPSU hears your issues! And by “your issues,” we at the Vanguard mean only those of the folks who show up. There’s some pretty good stuff going on, some great committees, but when so few people actually participate there’s a huge gap in what ASPSU can cover or investigate.
Curriculum: ASPSU gets a chance to put students on seats that allow a close-in view of the curriculum setting process. Shocking, huh?
What can YOU do?
Vote. Run. Attend ASPSU Senate, SFC and Committee meetings.
When asked about the benefits of increased student involvement, Avalos raised her voice slightly. “Well, it would benefit [students] because they would have more of a say in the direction that ASPSU goes and the way that they spend [student] money, the issues that they take on, the way that they speak on behalf of those issues to the administration,” Avalos said. “In general, how government works being involved gives you more of a voice and a say in what happens.”