Dwindling Interest Causes Sluggish Progress and Crucial Vacancies Within ASUPS

While Cabinet positions are filled, some roles in ASUPS such as senators and Honor Court justices remain empty. Photo Credit: Albert Yang-Choo // The Trail

  The Associated Students of the University of Puget Sound (ASUPS) is struggling with low engagement from students. Between a shrinking student body, the lasting effects of the pandemic, and general unfamiliarity with ASUPS’ role on campus, the organization faces unfilled positions and unintentional inaction.

  The ASUPS Senate in particular struggles with empty seats and low attendance, even though it should be a primary actor in a properly functioning student government. The chief responsibility of the senate is handling monetary decisions, including the approval of club budgets and other financing requests. Jack Simermeyer (‘24) currently serves as senate chair. As the senate leader, he works directly with the ASUPS president and vice president, as well as the cabinet, to assist with managing and navigating the program. He admits, however, that with low engagement, it is difficult “to actually run and do things because we are taking on so many extra responsibilities that we did not sign up for and do not really have,” he says. “We’re all people, we’re all students.”  Simermeyer believes that students do not understand the importance of ASUPS and how much it affects people’s lives. ASUPS coordinates on-campus events and finances numerous clubs. “We delegate that money to KUPS. We delegate money to The Trail,” he says, emphasizing the interconnectedness of campus organizations. A comprehensive monthly financial statement is available online and details the amount of the budget spent and projected to be spent. However, the most recent report available is from Oct. 2022, and therefore cannot demonstrate the current fiscal status of ASUPS.

  With low student engagement, Simermeyer explains, there are only a few people making decisions. “It’s hard, one, to represent the entire body, but also it’s hard to get things done quickly.” Simermeyer labels the current status of the ASUPS senate as “maintenance mode.” The problem of low engagement has been “diagnosed,” but Simermeyer was unable to share solutions, as they are still under wraps. He is hopeful that the freshman class will be more engaged than in previous years, and that ASUPS may table and try to talk to classrooms to attract interest.

  A key factor in the inability to recruit more students is the need for a Chief Justice in the Honor Court. The Honor Court resolves disputes between the senate and the executive branch, and without a leader, the system is at a standstill. “If we were having more senators coming in they have to be sworn in by the Chief Justice. The problem is there is no Chief Justice, and there are not enough people in Honor Court to be able to work,” Simermeyer says. Students who wish to be a justice submit themselves to the Court and subsequently volunteer their time.

  Despite this apparent frustration, little action is being taken to secure more Honor Court justices. Simermeyer cites senators and managerial roles as the current priorities of positions to fill. “Those are the things that are most crucial to be able to keep things running smoothly,” he says.

  Toby Simon (‘24) has served as an Honor Court justice for two semesters, and he highly recommends the experience. As a Politics and Government student, the role was advertised to him and he was appointed by Nate Sansone, the ASUPS president at the time. “Basically, the Honor Court really assesses the constitutionality of documents that are put forward by the senate and the executive,” Simon explains. “We kind of are the check and balance for a lot of things that happen in ASUPS.” The court resolves disputes between the executive and the Senate and writes case briefs, similar to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  Currently, the Honor Court only has two justices – too few for a quorum. Simon says, “I reached out to the president and vice president of ASUPS and I was told that Honor Court isn’t really a priority because there isn’t really any cases that need to be addressed at the moment.” Since the Senate is also lacking members, priorities are elsewhere. 

  Simon noted that as a justice, his only job is to legislate. “Well, the court would love to have more people, but it’s not the role of the court to find more members for the court,” he explains. “So, you know, it’s really the job of the president and the vice president at the time to get more people on the court.” Simon has spoken with the executives and has been told that they will begin recruiting when there is more demonstrated need. “But we can’t really do anything until we get a quorum. So, me and the other justice are just kind of sitting, waiting.”

  Simon attributes the low participation to complicated advertisements and lack of pay. It is almost solely pushed toward students studying Politics and Government, and Simon believes it would gain more traction if publicized to a larger audience. Many students do not know what the Honor Court is or what role it plays in ASUPS, and since it is unpaid, it is perceived more as a club than an integral part of the system. “There was talk of court justices being paid but we can’t do anything until the president starts taking action against the court.” He does not expect to be paid, as he graduates in the spring, and Honor Court has not convened since last semester. With 68 paid student positions within ASUPS totaling over $210,000 in stipend pay, a large chunk of the $560 “Comprehensive Student Fee” dictated in tuition goes directly to elected students and other students serving stipend positions. Simon advocates for Honor Court justices to come under this umbrella as well.

  Both Simermeyer and Simon are struggling in their own ways with low levels of engagement from the student body. The root of the problem lies in little publicity and a stagnation in progress. Simermeyer knows that many students are unhappy with the program. “People are not happy with ASUPS for different reasons, and I understand, I hear them, and I believe them,” he says. “The low engagement makes it really hard for us to build up.” Elections for positions within ASUPS will commence next semester, and both Simermeyer and Simon encouraged people to run. “It’s a way to kind of make your mark on the school, which is cool,” Simon says. The Trail will continue to report on the status of ASUPS positions and the progress of elections in the new semester.