In a recent opinion piece in The Badger Herald, a UW student criticized the Associated Students of Madison’s advisory role in the university, arguing it does not have legitimate power because of a lack of direct enforcement capabilities. This argument promotes a fundamental misunderstanding of both the purpose and the structure of ASM.

In Wisconsin, student power is uniquely protected by state law: “The students of each institution or campus subject to the responsibilities and powers of the board, the president, the chancellor, and the faculty shall have primary responsibility for advising the chancellor regarding the formulation and review of policies concerning student life, services, and interests.”  

Our purpose is not and should not be to make policy, but rather to advocate for student interests, advise the university on policies concerning students and support student involvement across campus.

In the same way that no single organ of the U.S. government has universal power, no single organ of ASM claims to control the actions of all students. ASM is a multifaceted organization whose power to credibly advise university policy is exerted through cooperation among committees and across colleges, coordination of student-run campaigns and the facilitation of communication between students and administrators.

UPDATE: In light of meal plan protests, UW announces shared governance committee of students, University HousingThe University of Wisconsin Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration announced Wednesday the Associated Students of Madison and the Division Read…

The Student Council provides a public, open forum for representatives from each college to make advisory statements and hear concerns, but nobody assumes a piece of legislation will single-handedly convert to new university policy.

The Student Services Finance Committee (SSFC) directly allocates $2.1 million of student segregated fees to empower student organizations and create a marketplace of ideas on campus. The SFFC’s advisory responsibility over the remaining $49 million has contributed to recent UHS mental health funding increases and initiated a campus-wide referendum to update the Southeast Recreational Facility, which will now be known as “The Nick.”

Four open committees (Equity & Inclusion, Legislative Affairs, Sustainability and Campus Relations) encourage unrestricted student participation in the development and facilitation of grassroots campaigns.

After night of debate, ASM to create new committee tailored towards discussion of issues faced by first year studentsAssociated Students of Madison Student Council gathered Tuesday evening to continue the discussion of the creation of a First-Year Involvement Read…

The Shared Governance Committee appoints students to over 200 committees comprised of faculty, staff and administrators. These groups are charged with formulating and reviewing institution, department, and issue-specific policies.

Within the last two weeks, the Student Council, open committees and shared governance committees successfully advocated for and achieved tangible victories on multiple student issues, demonstrating the effectiveness of ASM’s collaborative network.

The recent proposed ASM Student Council legislation regarding Babcock ice cream, as referenced by the opinion piece, is the most timely example of this network. The opinion completely ignores the actual effects of bringing legislation to the Student Council. This action alone builds a credible foundation which supports and drives future campaign directives. In fact, less than three hours before the opinion piece was published, ASM tabled the Babcock legislation indefinitely because of the progress already being made: all Babcock flavors are now labeled as “containing beef gelatin,” and non-gelatin flavors will now be available at events in the unions, dining halls and residence halls.

After night of debate, ASM to create new committee tailored towards discussion of issues faced by first year studentsAssociated Students of Madison Student Council gathered Tuesday evening to continue the discussion of the creation of a First-Year Involvement Read…

Part of the purpose of student government is to bring attention to areas of student concern which may otherwise be overlooked. By calling out the lack of knowledge on campus regarding the ingredients of a university-produced product, the legislation has been effective not only in educating students, alumni and administrators, but also prompting real action from the university.

ASM also recently helped secure voter ID printers at all seven on-campus polling locations — an expansion from two locations, which ensures that all students have increased access to voting in this midterm election. This victory can be partially attributed to ASM’s advisory role. Coordination between ASM and the Big 10 Voting Challenge advisory committee facilitated the direct connection of students with relevant administrators and, ultimately, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who made the final decision.

It is the combined work of these groups which allows ASM to build legitimacy within the university and city and state governments. The assumption that ASM is equal only to the Student Council does a disservice to the functionality of the official student government of UW. It promotes a lazy and misguided definition of government and power which fails to consider the real purpose of having student government: to amplify the student voice through direct, collaborative action.

Laura Downer ([email protected]is a junior studying political science, German and international studies. She is also the Legislative Affairs Chair of ASM.