Whats The Matter With Uhhsa
News Editor Nick Carrion
Photographer Zach Gorski
The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Student Association, or UHHSA, serves as the school’s form of student government. Modeled in part on the UH Board of Regents, they pass bills that have the potential to affect all students. UHHSA is likewise supposed to represent the voice of the student body when approaching the university’s administration. To many, UHHSA is far from perfect, and a sizable number of students remain either ignorant of their presence, or unsatisfied with their performance. And recent events unfolding within UHHSA have proven to be yet another challenge to their effectiveness.
The most dramatic of these events has been the sudden resignation of Lazareth “Laz” Sye, UHHSA’s vice president. Sye, who also once served as the group’s president, is a seasoned veteran of campus politics. Although his decision to resign was sudden, it was not unexpected, and Sye cites several reasons why he felt the need to break ties with the organization.
“Part of it was personal. I had to pretty much separate myself from the situation. And it wasn’t the first time that I’ve tried to separate myself from the organization due to different reasons. But this one was a little bit more personal.”
One of these reasons, says Sye, is frustration at the alleged violation of UHHSA bylaws on the part of his colleagues - and a seeming unwillingness to stick to the rules of the organization, as defined in their constitution.
“I feel that my impact wasn’t being felt in the organization. I would say, ‘Hey guys, this is against the rules.’ And someone else would say, ‘Well actually it’s not against the rules.’ And then I would say, ‘It’s written right here, it’s against the rules.’ And I would be accused of trying to cause an argument, or not trying to work with the group, or just being confrontational.
And so in the end, just to support the group - because no matter what, I would support the group, even if I knew that we were violating the rules. Because it kind of looks weird when one person, especially high up in the hierarchy, would be like ‘Oh, I vote against whatever it is.’”
The perception of having his dissent be ignored actually led Sye to attempt departing from UHHSA in the past.
“I have considered leaving in the last semester approximately two or three times. And there was one time where I was very passionate in the meeting. I was like, we cannot do this. Do not do this. To the point where I actually said if the Senate wanted to vote on this decision, they had to stand by their vote. And I asked for a roll-call vote.”
Unlike UHHSA’s normal voting procedure, a roll-call vote would increase accountability on the senators’ voting: the list of voters and how they voted would become a matter of public record. Because of this, Sye says, many senators chose to abstain from the vote, and a few changed their votes from yes to no. Ultimately the motion did pass, and at the time this was a make or break moment for Sye.
“After that motion had gone through and been approved, I was really upset. And I felt that this isn’t fair to me coming in here, putting in my time, trying to do my job, and being stopped. And so at the end of the meeting I motioned to resign.”
Quitting UHHSA isn’t as simple as putting in a two weeks notice. A motion for resignation must be made, seconded by another senator, and passed by the senate as a whole. At that time, no one would second Sye’s motion. After further deliberation with his colleagues, Sye was convinced to stay on, at least until this semester when a similar situation presented itself and his accusations of rule-breaking once again fell on deaf ears.
“It’s quite unfortunate,” says Sye, “because I think there are people who want to voice their dissent. But they see the person who is high up in the organization being shut down, and it doesn’t really give that push to say something.”
Sye also has his thoughts on why “following the herd” has come to a point of silencing dissent in our student government.
“I think it’s personalities. You know, my personality is very active, outgoing. Other people’s personalities are very passive, they’d rather listen. And some people’s personalities - they give off a sense of, I am the authority figure, you should listen to me.”
Personality clashes are often a source of conflict in groups, and can lead to problems with the effectiveness of an organization. And the resignation of a high level executive has understandably left UHHSA scrambling to fill that void. But what of these rules that are reportedly being broken? Has UHHSA gone rogue, trampling over their own bylaws to push some secret agenda?
The truth is, as always, a little more complicated than that. Getting anything done within UHHSA can be a bit of a challenge, being labeled one of the most ‘bureaucratic’ organizations on our campus. They are governed by rules set down by the administration, as well as a set of laws they pass themselves.
Others in UHHSA have their own perspectives on the matter. Deneese Stone, the senator representing the College of Arts and Sciences, recalls a time when bureaucracy and an overall lack of communication hindered her from getting something done.
“For example,” she said, “I’m trying to work on an initiative for us to purchase tickets for students, and it got tabled because at the time that I wrote the report I wasn’t able to attach the documents that they needed. So instead of telling me when they reviewed it that they needed the documents, they waited until the meeting to tell me that they didn’t have the documents, and therefore they had to table it. So I would have sent it to them, and I did send it to them immediately once they asked for it, so just tell me before it comes to the meeting.”
Stone alleges that this sort of thing leads to missed opportunities for senators to work for the students.
“There were times when we didn’t push things that needed to be pushed, like the Kihei initiative. That was stuff that should have been done a long time ago,” Stone said.
Even Sye, whose self-proclaimed dedication to the rules led him to step down, admits that they can be a hindrance.
“So if the rules say something needs to be submitted by a certain time, but then there’s also another rule saying that one the meeting starts it’s up to the senate to decide what’s added after the fact. I think additional training is required because people are not aware of the rules,” Sye said.
So is bureaucracy the bane of student government? Has UHHSA tangled itself into an inescapable gridlock of regulations that prevent anything from getting done? In an organization that handles as much of the student’s money as UHHSA does, they be unavoidable, according to UHHSA’s faculty advisor Randy Hirokawa. He sees the main problem within UHHSA not to be the amount of rules, but that senators simply don’t know how to follow them all.
“I think that the UHHSA organization this year is comprised of a number of new members, first year people. And my experience is that first year senators have a steep learning curve in terms of knowing how to do things properly,” Hirokawa said.
“Whatever inefficiencies are there are the result of people having to learn how to do things properly in accordance with university requirements. And sometimes people will look at it and say, these are petty rules. But they are what they are,” he continued.
Ideally, Hirokawa would like to see intensive summer training for new senators so that by the time they took office, they would be prepared to work within UHHSA guidelines. He believes this would help newer senators like Stone, who admits she didn’t quite know what she was getting herself into when she first was appointed to the Senate.
“We do have a job description, but it’s very vague. I did student government at my previous institution and there weren’t so many rules that I had to follow. Signing up for UHHSA was not what I expected it to be. I thought it was going to be a lot easier.”
Ultimately, such a combination of rule breaking - or rule ignorance - inexperience, and lack of communication has contributed to what students perceive as an inefficient - if not altogether impotent - student government. In a setting as bureaucratic as a college administration - with a student staff that has to learn on the job, and rarely lasts more than a few years - perhaps that’s to be expected. Then again, UHHSA members themselves appear exasperated. In Senator Stone’s words, “I guess the main thing that I want to tell the students is that we’re trying our best to do right by you guys, because that’s why we’re here.”