I like to affectionately refer to Associated Students of Madison as repulsive, eczematous body oozing with corruption and partisan agenda. Once again, ASM has lived up to this reputation by irresponsibly allocating student segregated fees to send student government representatives to the discriminatory Conservative Political Action Conference this March. In doing so, ASM has shown their willingness to put their own partisan agendas before the needs of students.
At the heart of the mess is ASM Vice Chair Maria Giannopoulos, who has been intensely reluctant to comply with an open records request requiring her to make all emails regarding CPAC available to the public. Initially, Giannopoulos falsely claimed the information in these emails was protected under FERPA. Since then, she has further delayed the already grudgingly slow process.
At this time, Giannopoulos has had more than a week to comply with this open records request and has still failed to do so. Giannopoulos’ role in facilitating such a severe lack of efficiency and transparency within ASM is not only disgraceful but insulting to the students she represents.
Although she has been very reluctant to release any emails pertaining to CPAC, Giannopoulos still maintains ASM’s decision to allocate money for its members to attend CPAC is justified because ASM is also providing funding for its members to attend United States Student Association events. Giannopoulos asserts both are 501c(3) organizations that “train students how to advocate for public policies.”
However, Giannopoulos acknowledges both conventions “may attract folks who have certain political leanings,” as if insinuating CPAC is the conservative control to the allegedly liberal USSA. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to note the USSA does not specifically identify with a political party – rather, it advocates for the rights of students. The USSA Board of Directors actually nominated a Republican from Wisconsin for one of the top awards at its conference, demonstrating its commitment to work with students from both sides of the aisle.
As a student, I think it would be an extremely beneficial and responsible use of segregated fees to send students to a conference which encourages students to advocate for their rights. CPAC, however, is blatantly partisan. According to its website, CPAC was created “to rally conservatives, share strategies and promulgate and crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America.” This partisan conference, in my opinion, is more about pushing and promoting a right-wing agenda than helping students to fight for their rights.
My biggest objection to CPAC is its blatant discrimination toward the LGBT community. At this upcoming 2013 conference, CPAC banned – yes, banned – GOProud, a political action group that represents gay conservatives. Feeling the pressure of this anti-gay sentiment from CPAC, other conservative gay rights groups, including the Log Cabin Republicans, have withdrawn from the conference.
Therefore, by allocating funds for students to attend CPAC, ASM would be violating Article IV, section I of the ASM Constitution, which states that “ASM shall not discriminate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation.”
Legal issues aside, I think it’s also important to consider the direct impact this will have on our university. I believe the purpose of sending students to conventions like CPAC and USSA is to help them gain new perspectives and ideas. This, in turn, enriches our campus when they bring back these new perspectives and diverse ideas to their fellow students and student organizations.
However, I believe using segregated fees to send students to an event that openly bans conservative gay rights advocates would ultimately harm our university by demonstrating to students that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not only acceptable, but should, in fact, be practiced. As a student at a university that prides itself on maintaining a safe and comfortable environment for all students, including those of different sexual orientations, I cannot comfortably allow the use of segregated fees to fund a student trip to an event that directly contradicts the University of Wisconsin’s mission and commitment to diversity.
Not surprisingly, ASM is more concerned with their partisan agenda than respecting the rights of students. I will reiterate that much of this inherent failure to address students’ needs is rooted in ASM’s top leadership – specifically, Maria Giannopoulos.
Ironically, Giannopoulos is currently running for a seat in the upcoming ASM elections and vows to make ASM “more fiscally responsible with our expenditures both allocable and nonallocable.” Her platform couldn’t be more different from her track record, and it is shameful for her to suggest otherwise.
Under her failed leadership, ASM is a far cry from being fiscally responsible. Instead, it operates as a body that allocates money to causes that further partisan politics, even if it means violating the ASM constitution and neglecting the rights of students.
And for those who dismiss my objections as a waste of time, or an unnecessary uproar, I deplore you. Let me be clear: This is not a “fracas,” this is holding our student government accountable for its actions.
Jacob Riederer ([email protected]) is the communications director for College Democrats of UW-Madison.