USUAA’s Legislative Affairs Committee will meet Jan. 20 to discuss ways to redress problems within UA’s student government coalition after a $1 contribution by USUAA in November increased tensions within the body.
The $1 donation was a far cry from the annual contribution of $5,000 USUAA usually makes to the coalition, leaving tensions high between campuses over the winter break.
UAA’s Sen. Luke Thomas exacerbated the problem with his comments during a December conference call with USUAF representatives in which he said rural delegates were “non-professional, often late and their attitudes (are) lackadaisical.”
Sen. Thomas has since apologized for his remarks, saying they were made in the heat of the moment and do not reflect the position of USUAA as a whole.
“I was poorly trying to bring (problems) out and talk about them and hopefully resolve them so that we don’t have to deal with them year after year after year, because they’re not getting taken care of,” he said. “I did apologize for the comments, but I do stick to them and believe them although I do recognize that they were not the best way to approach the topic.”
USUAA President Anthony Rivas said the conference call was unauthorized and that Thomas should not have taken it upon himself to speak for USUAA.
“I’m the only person on the assembly who has the authority to represent the student body without the permission of the assembly,” he said. “I am, I have and I will be correcting the situation to make sure something like this never happens again.”
Rivas said he plans to take Thomas off of the Rules Committee in response to the incident and will recommend that Thomas be removed from the Legislative Affairs Committee, meaning he will not participate in an upcoming lobbying effort in Juneau.
Rivas said he was not involved in the decision to contribute the solitary dollar to the coalition, but he did support the move.
The decision to contribute $1 was a strategic move aimed to get the attention of the coalition, which Rivas said has been generally unresponsive to USUAA’s positions in the past. Rivas said that although UAA is by far the largest UA campus, it gets only one vote in the coalition, equal in weight to a small campus such as UA-Ketchikan. Rivas said that became a problem for USUAA last year when the coalition attempted to implement a student fee on all UA students, which would have forced UAA students to pay a disproportionate amount towards the coalition’s budget.
“The only time in the year when we have any control over what the coalition does is when we give them money,” Rivas said. “I never thought we were going to give them a dollar and it would stay a dollar. I knew that once the point was taken we’d give them the money.”
Rivas supports giving the remaining balance to the coalition now that USUAA has been able to make its point, although he said he had some reservations about how the money will be spent, and he would like to see the money earmarked for specific projects.
Jeffrey Henderson, USUAA Greek Council Representative, said he agreed with the $1 donation, but thought problems with the coalition stemmed from miscommunication.
“There were some problems with how we were being represented, and I think it called attention to that, although I think it wasn’t explained the way it needed to be,” he said. “We had planned to give the full donation at a later time, and I don’t think that came across. The point wasn’t to insult them, it was to make a statement.”
A portion of the money USUAA contributes to the coalition goes to the lobbying effort in Juneau in which delegates seek to persuade state legislators to give UA adequate funding. The coalition plans to send members to Juneau this semester, although an exact date has not been set.