ASUO Vetos Threat to Student Autonomy

    In an emergency ASUO meeting at 10:30am on Friday Feb 18th the Senate vetoed the I-Fee budget previously delivered to senate by ASUO President Isaiah Boyd. ASUO also voted on an extensive resolution condemning a decision made between Boyd and Dr. Kevin Marbury VP of student life to remove the EMU from the I-Fee budget and dramatically decrease student autonomy. The decision was unilaterally made by ASUO President Boyd to hand control of the EMU to the administration but was rejected on the last day possible after being delivered to the Senate. The last-minute resolution and veto were the culmination of a heated week of meetings and actions by multiple student groups, senators, and activists.

What started with an inexplicably delayed Daily Emerald article released on Feb 8th mentioning the loss of the EMU, quickly exploded the next day at ASUO’s Wed Feb 9th meeting. Audience members called out the Senate and demanded ASUO President Isaiah Boyd’s resignation. Commenters spoke over the banging gavel of the Senate President and an attempt was made to clear the room. Over the next week Senators learned the full extent of the EMU’s loss and it became clear that they had voted on a budget that was missing over half of its traditional funding. A coalition of student groups and current & former senators began the process of unraveling what was revealed to be an overwhelming seizure of student assets by the administration.

On Tuesday Feb 15th over a dozen student activists crashed the Tuition & Fee Advisory Board (TFAB) meeting. Dr. Kevin Marbury publicly confirmed half a dozen times that the decision to hand over the EMU was exclusively a conversation between himself and ASUO President Isaiah Boyd. Representatives of the Oregon Student Association (OSA) seeking to learn more about the situation were at the meeting. University President Michael Schill, and UO’s General Legal Counsel were also in attendance. Activists repeatedly held onto the mic and asked pointed questions about the deal, to which admin stood behind the legality of the EMU’s unilateral transfer.

Activists found themselves completely vindicated in the wake of  Marbury’s public affirmations. After what had been a week of organizers trying to walk back some of the most heated proclamations by radical activists, the Feb 15th TFAB meeting now confirmed their worst fears. The administration was openly making a move to take the EMU away from student control and ASUO President Isaiah Boyd had fully cooperated with this effort.     

As activists, organizers, and dissenting senators redoubled their efforts to counter the unfolding EMU transfer, a meeting of the EMU’s governing body (EMU Board) convened on Thursday Feb 17th.  This Zoom meeting was also largely directed towards Dr. Kevin Marbury, where he emphasized the administration’s opinion that the student body needed to, “trust the admin to have students’ best interests at heart.” Marbury reiterated his previous opinion that ASUO President Boyd and himself had sole discretion to transfer the EMU from ASUO’s control. Many student members of the EMU board were uncomfortable with the principle of the EMU’s transfer. They were even more disturbed by the lack of transparency and student oversight in which the dramatic loss of student power had occurred. Though the EMU Board would retain a measure of student control over the EMU after the transfer, it would be a fraction of the previous authority that students held over the budgetary process. 

Student members of the EMU Board have become increasingly discouraged by decreasing transparency and loss of student power on the board. Many problems have stemmed from the obstinance of EMU Director Laurie Woodward not being receptive to student concerns or listening to their opinions. At the Feb 17th EMU Board meeting, students were directly challenged by Marbury on the grounds that, “Of course you can trust us, you work with Laurie every day.” This was not an encouraging premise for assurances of student autonomy moving forward. Student members of the EMU Board came out of the meeting determined to halt the impending transfer.   

The next day on Friday Feb 18th ASUO convened for an emergency meeting at 10:30am. A list of over a dozen commentators strongly reiterated points relating to the dramatic loss of student power and autonomy that would occur if the current budget structure was allowed to move forward. One ASUO Senate alumni who graduated ten years ago spoke on how there has been a historical precedent of admin attempting to gain control of the EMU building. During his previous tenure on ASUO, the admin had tried to pull the same tricks to gain control of the EMU’s prime real estate. Many emphasized that once the EMU building was given over to admin control it would be nearly impossible to get back. Another student, Courtney Kaltenbach, cited the example of the student service Duck Rides being co-opted by administration control until its original mission was bastardized and it simply became an extension of UOPD.

ASUO voted to veto the budget and delivered a detailed resolution condemning the attempted unilateral removal of the EMU from the I-Fee budget. This will now trigger a new budgetary process known as “Budget Bonanza” and senators will have to reorganize the budget to include the EMU and accommodate the shortfall. All of this will have to occur before the budget is delivered to the Board of Trustees (BOT) in March. ASUO President Isaiah Boyd will have to answer questions from the BOT regarding the budget. He has dutifully done so before in defense of pandemic relief packages for students and the cutting of a problematic $1.7 million athletics ticket giveaway. But after calls for his resignation and the veto of a massive deal he personally facilitated, there may be questions as to the sincerity his testimony will provide in convincing the BOT to accept ASUO’s new budget.

Despite there being a $280K shortfall in this year’s EMU budget due to routine labor negotiations, the admin’s amputation scheme to remove the EMU from the I-Fee budget was not widely considered a reasonable solution in an over $17 million budget. The cost to student autonomy is an $8 million reduction in the assets that students’ most democratic body (ASUO) has oversight over. It is also widely understood that the division of funding lines would have facilitated student fee increases without triggering review by the state’s regulatory body the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC).

ASUO voted to veto the budget and delivered a detailed resolution condemning the attempted unilateral removal of the EMU from the I-Fee budget. This will now trigger a new budgetary process known as “Budget Bonanza” and senators will have to reorganize the budget to include the EMU and accommodate the shortfall. All of this will have to occur before the budget is delivered to the Board of Trustees (BOT) in March. ASUO President Isaiah Boyd will have to answer questions from the BOT regarding the budget. He has dutifully done so before in defense of pandemic relief packages for students and the cutting of a problematic $1.7 million athletics ticket giveaway.  But after calls for his resignation and the veto of a massive deal he personally facilitated, there may be questions as to the sincerity his testimony will provide in convincing the BOT to accept ASUO’s new budget.

In the resolution passed on Friday Feb 18th the final language details
how if no agreement can be made then the state’s regulatory body should become involved to settle the dispute. It reads as follows:

FURTHERMORE LET IT BE RESOLVED, if the Student Senate, ASUO President and the Board of Trustees do not agree on a proposed budget, the Higher Education Coordination Committee can be involved to settle the agreement.

In a ten-day period starting on Feb 9th and ending with the resolution & veto on Feb 18th it appears that students have succeeded in an initial battle to preserve student autonomy over the EMU. How the coming weeks will play out concerning the new budget, the Board of Trustees, arbitration of the HECC, and even the ongoing awareness of the Oregon Student Association on this matter is at this time unclear. Organizers, activists, and senators are hopeful that their initial check against a discrete administration power grab has been successful. Many students now fully aware of the situation, are prepared to launch direct actions if the student democratic process fails to safeguard student autonomy over the EMU.  


Editor’s note: It is Insurgent policy to not target groups and demographics without power, of which most students are a part. The only exceptions to this policy are the ASUO President and the Student Trustee.  

*This article was edited on  March 5, 2022. An earlier version wrongly stated: “The EMU Board only has seven elected student positions, the rest being a collection of appointed students, appointed employees, and full-time staff. A number of these board positions are directly appointed by the University President Michael Schill, giving the administration a significant balance of power in the expanded budgetary powers of the EMU Board.”

A correction was made made that clarifies the structure of the EMU Board: 

“The Board’s current make up is as follows:

2 EMU Student Reps, 2 ASUO Student Reps , 4 At Large Student Positions, 1 ASUO Executive Designee Student, 3 ASUO Student Senator Seats, 1 EMU Program Admin Adult – currently a rep from the Craft Center, Laurie Woodward – EMU Director, Rick Haught – EMU Director of Scheduling & Event Services, Jessi Steward – EMU Associate Director 

No student board positions are appointed by President Schill- elections/appointments are run internally by existing student board members. Admin are not a part of the student election process. Additionally, while Laurie acts as an advising resource, as ASUO Senate similarly does, the EMU Board itself (students) are the ones to conduct budget hearings to create and present the budget for approval by Senate. It is a student centric process, informed (not dictated) by admin.”

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