Editorial: ASUCSD Violated Student Trust With a Private Senate Meeting

EditorialOpinion

Photo of the Associated Students of UC San Diego offices with closed doors on the 4th floor of Price Center
Ethan Edward Coston / The Triton

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The Triton’s Editor-in-Chief Ella Chen filed a grievance against ASUCSD last night. Read the grievance here.

On January 15, 2020, the Associated Students of UC San Diego (ASUCSD) held a closed session for a presentation by University Centers Advisory Board (UCAB) Chair Joey Mendoza, entitled “Student Mental Health.” About an hour later, ASUCSD voted unanimously to approve the language for a student mental health/CAPS student fee referendum. The discourse that influences AS’ decisions should be public, especially when potentially related to the allocation of our student fees. The Triton believes that the justification given for this closed section was not legitimate: it is a violation of Section 8 of the ASUCSD Constitution and reveals a negligent lack of definition within said section.

ASUCSD Vice President of Campus Affairs (VPCA) Melina Reynoso justified the closed session by invoking the “matters of personnel” exception within Section 8. She writes:

“Any presentation regarding personnel of UCSD can warrant a closed session, our constitution does not clearly define what personnel matters are …”

Section 8 of the ASUCSD constitution reads as follows:

All meetings of the Senate shall be open to the public except when dealing with matters of personnel, existing or anticipated litigation, license or permit determination, threat to public services or facilities, labor negotiations, investments, contracts, or real property negotiations.”

This explanation does not justify the closure of the session and makes clear how problematically undefined the term “matters of personnel” is in Section 8 of the ASUCSD Constitution. Above, Reynoso interprets “matters of personnel” to include all discussions of UCSD staff, regardless of context. Such an interpretation gives AS power to close any session pertaining to a staff member with no substantial justification.

This highly protective interpretation is glaring when we contextualize it within AS’s history of disregard for student’s privacy: holding open sessions in which students must testify about extremely personal subjects and experiences, like Jake Henry, who was not given the option of closed session when he advocated for Greek Life reforms in front of AS Senate.

In light of how unaccommodating AS has been to students discussing personal matters in public sessions, it is unfair that AS interprets Section 8 so broadly that any mere discussion of a staff member can justify a closed session. 

Not only does such an interpretation represent a double standard in the respect afforded to staff to students, it is simply excessively lenient. With this in mind, The Triton believes that AS’s recent use of the “matters of personnel” justification for a closed session was in violation of Section 8.

This conclusion is further supported when one takes into consideration more fleshed out definitions of “matters of personnel” that pertain to the UC system.

The Brown Act, which applies to governmental bodies in the State of California, except those under the UC Board of Regents (though the UC Board of Regents bylaws require the Board of Regents to follow the Brown Act), and the Constitution for ASUC, the student government for UC Berkeley, both outline specific guidelines for the use of “matters of personnel.”

The Brown Act states that the personnel justification may be invoked in the case of public employee appointment, performance evaluations, discipline, dismissal, or release. The student government for UC Berkeley draws similar parameters to the Brown Act for closed sessions. Its personnel justifications are:

“Matters concerning the appointment, employment, performance, compensation, sanctioning, or dismissal of employees, excluding elected and appointed officials. Matters concerning the sanctioning or dismissal of officials may be held in closed session with the consent of the person facing sanctions or dismissal.”

The closed session held on January 15 fits neither of these more specific definitions of “matters of personnel.” Not only is the interpretation AS defends broad in a way that serves staff over students, it does not align with the precedents set by the State of California for personnel exemptions.

As members of the press and the greater UCSD community, we feel obligated to submit a grievance against AS regarding this interpretation. We hope that the Judicial Board will institute much-needed specificity to Section 8 of the ASUCSD Constitution in response to this grievance.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Triton Editorial Board. This article was written by Opinion Editor Kate Zegans and Managing Editor Ethan Edward Coston. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.