Associated Students Beat Reporter
The Open People’s Party at the University of California, Santa Barbara is associated with consistently gaining votes from members of Greek organizations during the Associated Students election each spring, and OPP continually wins the majority of the seats on the AS Senate and in the executive offices. Due to the relationship between Greek life and OPP, UCSB students have expressed concern that Greek life receives more funding and representation than other student groups and organizations.
“Typically there is a good portion of Greek life that OPP actively reaches out to,” said former OPP campaign manager Mathew Burciaga*, who worked during the Spring 2014 election. “We typically have senators from Greek life… the more traditional fraternities and sororities and the cultural ones.”
Burciaga stated that OPP continuously tries to gain votes from the Greek life, due to the size of the Greek community.
“At just a regular house in IV you might have five or six people, but, say, at the Beta senior house, you might have a dozen, maybe 16 people,” said Burciaga. “How can you maximize the amount of votes you get with the smallest amount of effort?”
According to College of Creative Studies Senator Liam Stanton, who ran independently of a political party, this type of campaigning can lead to representational consequences.
“There is this dynamic where, especially with the party in power right now, they have a very cozy relationship with Greek life,” said Stanton.
Approximately 30 percent of the 2014-2015 AS Senate is affiliated with Greek life. This percentage is larger than the overall percentage of Greeks in the student body, with only 11 percent of undergraduates affiliated. Burciaga stated that OPP purposefully slates members of Greek life as senators and executive candidates due to their ability to gain votes from other members of the Greek community, as well as their availability during the academic year.
“[Being a senator] is a part-time job,” said Burciaga. “You have to be inherently privileged, or have some sort of financial backing, or just be more well-off in general, to be able to run for senate and be an effective senator… Most kids are working 15-20 hours a week just to put food on the table, just to survive.”
According to Burciaga, because members of Greek life are typically more affluent than non-members, they have an advantage when being slated for candidacy. These students are able to work 15 hours per week, only receiving payment in the form of honoraria at the end of each quarter.
“You slate someone that is working 15-20 hours a week, they won’t have time to do another 15-20 hours of work on top of schoolwork, on top of already being tired from work,” said Burciaga. “In essence, you try and slate those in Greek organizations because they are more well-off, because they might have more time to give to senate duties.”
With Greek life largely represented on the AS Senate, the manner in which that representation manifests has been questioned by a variety of sources.
“You don’t criticize funding for certain groups, because those groups have a lot of power and influence,” said Stanton, referencing the Greek community at UCSB.
At the final senate meeting of fall quarter, Stanton authored a bill, seconded by Letters and Sciences collegiate senator and OPP member Nadia Blant, to update Article IV Section 7 of the ASUCSB Legal Code, which states that “any dues-collecting organization seeking any kind of ASUCSB sponsorship or funds shall disclose publicly its quarterly and/or yearly income from dues to AS Finance Board, as well as to the Senate. This information shall weigh heavily in cases of limited resources and financial prioritization.”
The bill was written in order to prevent student groups with already large amounts of funding, accrued via members’ dues, from requesting additional funding from AS. However, the bill was tabled indefinitely; Stanton stated that this tabling was possibly a result of of OPP’s connection to the Greek community, as a large amount of senate members also belong to Greek life.
In retrospect, Stanton stated that he disagrees with the bill.
“It was a petty bill—it was a completely wrong idea and I see that now,” said Stanton. “It was dumb on my part because it would have created huge unnecessary obstacles for organizations [in general] just to get their funding… students voted for their lock-in fees to be distributed as efficiently and freely as possible, and that bill would have hindered that.”
Blant, the co-author of the bill, declined to comment on the intentions of the bill or the reasoning behind its proposal.
According to off-campus Senator and Democratic Process party member Xin Ma, the relationship between Greek life and AS Senate can lead to funding decisions that benefit Greek life over other organizations.
“In terms of funding and representation, compared to Greek life, there are a lot of organizations that don’t get as much funding or resources or support, in that sense,” said Ma. “And I feel like that could be better used for different student groups. I’m not against Greek life at all.”
In a funding analysis by The Bottom Line, however, it was determined that Greek life in the 2014-2015 year was funded no more than other student groups, as the 17 Greek organizations received a total of $24,964. As of week seven of Winter Quarter 2015, the AS Senate had allocated approximately $419,497 to fund various student organizations—including Greek life—and events held by Office of Student Life groups, according to AS Finance and Business Committee Chair, Letters and Science collegiate senator, and OPP member Jimmy Villarreal. This statement was made at the Feb. 25 meeting of AS Senate.
AS Chief Financial Officer and party chair of OPP Andre Theus stated that because a percentage of students are involved in Greek life at UCSB, those students should be allowed to request funding from AS as well.
“I, on a basic level, feel that if students are paying fees then they should have access to those fees, and that’s how unallocated funds work,” said Theus. “Yes, there is a high percentage of Greeks who are putting on events, and these events tend to be very costly, but as a board you are supposed to go through those costs and see what we actually should be paying for.”
According to Theus, within the AS Financial Policies and Procedures is the requirement that if a Greek group is requesting over $5,000 in funding, they are required to meet that amount in fundraising. Despite this, it has been a concern among several UCSB students that Greek organizations request funding from AS because they do not want to fund their events on their own.
“These are very wealthy, very well-funded organizations, but as with any organization, they won’t want to use their own money unless they have to,” stated an anonymous OPP senator who served during the 2013-2014 academic year. “What ends up happening is, ‘Let’s go to finance board, and if they don’t fund us then we’ll ask a bunch of other organizations, and if they don’t fund us then we’ll use our own money.’”
Villarreal stated that the Finance and Business Committee “does not consider funding requests based on any specific distinctions (Greek vs. non-Greek or any other groupings)” and instead focuses on “funding student groups whose events are open to the campus and enhance the experience of students at UCSB.”
However, the anonymous senator opined that although Greek organizations advertise their events as open to all students, the events can often become exclusively Greek.
“If I wanted to go just to see where my funding was going,” she said, “I would feel awkward because I’m not Greek, I’m not wearing letters, and I stand out.”
Villarreal stated that the events held by Greek organizations that are funded by the Finance and Business Committee “are open to the student body and generally are either philanthropic or concerned with outreach to high school students.”
On-campus senator and DP party member Steven Kwok also commented on the type of events funded by the Finance and Business Committee.
“Since we allocate from the pool of funds into which the entire undergraduate [student body] pays, we want to ensure that these funds go towards events that everyone (or at least as many people as possible) can benefit from,” said Kwok. “I would define inclusivity, fundamentally, as the ability to attend an event, given the option to go. But the issue of inclusivity is much more complex than that; and I would hope that we as an association recognize the many factors, such as race, gender, and class, that affect people’s perceptions of inclusivity and hold ourselves to a higher standard to better accommodate the student body that we serve.”
Kwok declined to comment on the supposed relationship between Greek life and Associated Students, as he believes he has not seen such a relationship.
This article is the third installment in “Guilt by Association”—a series of investigative articles covering student government and campus representation. New articles will be published in the coming weeks.
*Mathew Burciaga is currently a layout editor for The Bottom Line.