Associated Students of Madison Chair Matthew Mitnick discussed the student council’s progress on past legislation, future action items for the spring semester and his hopes for the University of Wisconsin during his last semester as chair in an interview with The Badger Herald.
Mitnick will not be running to keep his position with ASM after the spring semester as he prepares to graduate early. Though, before he goes, Mitnick said ASM still has work to do as they lay the foundation for semesters to come and sustain the movements put in motion during ASM’s 27th Session.
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The first ASM meeting on Jan. 26 contains carryover items from the fall as well as new proposals for the spring. Representatives will propose legislation to create a task force on pandemic-related grading policies in response to ongoing debates surrounding pass/fail and other online-learning initiatives, Mitnick said.
Mitnick said he hopes the UW administration will endorse giving the task force — made up of students, faculty and ASM representatives — governing power to make decisions on issues such as pass/fail and inclusive time zones.
“Pass/fail obviously dominated the past few weeks,” Mitnick said. “We think we are in a pretty decent place to push that along.”
Additionally, ASM members will propose legislation to create a COVID-19 Student Relief Fund to provide aid directly to students affected financially by the pandemic for housing costs, Mitnick said. With sponsors from across the city and county level and nearly two-and-a-half months of planning, Mitnick said action on the legislation will be taken at the Jan. 26 meeting.
Following up on key resolutions from last semester, Mitnick said ASM has plans to introduce legislation related to the University of Wisconsin Police Department in work done in partnership with the BIPOC Coalition. Mitnick said he hopes the legislation will help bring the issue to the forefront and abide by the council’s vote of no confidence in UWPD.
“Even the items that we passed that haven’t seen a lot of coverage, we’re still working on behind the scenes,” Mitnick said. “I promise there will be some action soon on some of these [resolutions] … Personally, I want to get them off campus, so figuring out how we can best do that fiscally and legislatively.”
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Amid financial concerns for the university and the distribution of stimulus aid, Mitnick said he will advocate that segregated fees for students do not go up during the pandemic. According to estimates from the fall, UW is expected to lose $320 million between March 2020 and the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, 2021.
Mitnick said he believes students’ segregated fees should not make up for the university’s “financial mismanagement.” Mitnick said he supports ending payments from segregated fees to facilities such as UW Rec Well and the Wisconsin Union because he believes they should not be in operation during the pandemic, as well as halting construction of a new gym.
“I will continue advocating for that,” Mitnick said. “If other campus units are struggling, the burden should never be on students.”
As mounting financial pressure accumulates, Mitnick said individuals from Rec Well and the Wisconsin Union have tried to lobby ASM to allocate them some of the unspent funds. Mitnick said he believes the council will remain “firm to the best [they] can” on how it spends the student segregated fees.
Mitnick said he hopes the creation of the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund will help ASM allocate the unspent funds within their control equitably and directly to students.
“I will do everything I can to make sure the dollars that students are paying for are going towards things that actually help them but also do that with an equity lens in mind and realize that not everybody has the same access to resources,” Mitnick said. “So let’s use our power, our funding allocation to mitigate these unintended consequences.”
With the spring ASM election around the corner, Mitnick said the student body must be “careful and deliberate” about who they choose to lead them in the next year. Hoping to bring in new, diverse voices, Mitnick said students need to consider who has a seat at the table and who may need to step back.
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In considering his final semester as chair as well as looking to ASM’s future, Mitnick said he hopes to continue carrying on what he believes was the fall semester’s theme, equity.
“If you do not see one issue as problematic or impacting you, I think students just need to think, ‘Well, how do my colleagues face this problem or circumstance?” Mitnick said. “I think that is the mindset we need to have going into this semester, especially as the pandemic rages on … when we propose certain things and solutions, it’s being done because this is what we are hearing from students who are being most adversely impacted.”