by Amy Borer
photography by Shelby Wertz
Freshman John McFarland had a vision in 1970 of turning the existing form of student body government at the University of La Verne, led by a single president, into a legislative forum of 12 equal peers. In 1996, Rev. John McFarland is disheartened to hear that the system he so proudly helped create has reverted back to what it once was.
“When I was a freshman, you’d have two dedicated students running [for president of the student body], but only one could win and get into government,” he says. “Our purpose was to make sure everyone interested in student government got the chance to run.”
By the 1972 academic year, McFarland had set up a system in which many students would run for the Associate Students Federation (ASF) Forum, and the 12 who received the most votes would be elected. Instead of a student running for president, the forum would select one of its own members to lead the Forum as a chairman. All 12 members would hold equal power. “Our goal was to eliminate the competition between two people,” says McFarland. “Under the new system, the 13th person lost to a whole body of people, not just one individual on campus.” According to McFarland, this structure was a success, and approximately 25 people ran for the forum in its first general election.
But 24 years have passed since that first election, and policies certainly have changed. The ASF Forum still exists on campus, but it is not the animal that McFarland created.
While there are still 12 seats on the Forum, each year elections are held for each position on ASF, and the winners of these elections in turn become the Forum.
Not only is this system opposite the one McFarland set up, it contradicts the bylaws he wrote for the Constitution.”It’s wrong,” he says. “Unless the bylaws have been rewritten, it goes against what we originally wrote.”
Even though the structure of the ASF Forum has changed over the years, the goal of the group remains basically the same: to be advocates for the student body.
According to Landisi, the purpose of today’s forum is “to use the money from student activity fees in the best way possible to benefit the most students possible.”
Junior Dan Lougheed, vice president, agrees with Landisi’s statement but adds another aspect.”We’re here to represent students and act as advocates,” he says. “We’re students, too, so we know the concerns and what students like. It’s our job to see that the money students spend on activity fees is spent well.”
In the infant years of the ASF Forum, the main concern was on student issues, and spending money was only an afterthought. “Our job was to deal with student issues in relation to campus life,” says McFarland. “We were concerned with things like dorm rules, chapel rules and student/faculty relations. We tried to better student life by sponsoring dances and helping to build the new gym, but money wasn’t our main concern. Instead of saying, ‘OK, we have so much money, what should we do with it?’ we decided what needed to be done and how we could make it happen with the money we had.”
As Lougheed admits, the reputation of ASF has changed in the past couple of years, but this year’s Forum is trying to recreate the image. “The past couple of years, ASF has gotten a reputation for just putting on parties and activities,” he says. “This year we’re trying to address students’ concerns and encourage more political involvement.”
One way that ASF is trying to be an advocate for students is with a newly installed hotline, designed as a way for students to voice any concern or problem they have with the University. As Landisi explains it, when a student calls the hotline, she can leave a message explaining the specifics of her problem. Then, ASF will follow up with a phone call or a letter to the student, directing her to someone with serious answers to the questions, or will represent the student if applicable. “One of our main things is to always get the opinion of Joe Blow student,” says Landisi. “We want to engage people, and it’s hard to do that just through meetings and constituencies.”
Traditionally, student input was gained by the Forum in these two ways. Aside from the hotline, a political action committee, comprised of five Forum members and headed by senior Scott Mac Kay has also been added to address student concerns. The committee is trying to knock out the main problems of students, such as the food on campus, parking and residence hall issues. “If they [students] vent to us, maybe we can do something about it,” says Landisi.
Yet, according to Landisi, the main problem with these new programs is lack of student involvement. Since the hotline went into effect in September, there have been no calls.
McFarland says that apathy is not a new phenomenon at the University. “What I saw when I started was very similar to what you have now,” he says. But the difference was that students in 1972 were just waiting to get involved. “Students of that era were searching for meaning,” says McFarland.
As the current Forum tries to encourage student involvement, many changes are in store for the group this year. Most visibly, the group is re-evaluating the activities it sponsors each year to ensure that it spends its money in the best possible way. The Forum has also created a task force to change the existing Constitution.
“A lot of things in the Constitution ASF and the students have voted out,” says Landisi. The new Constitution, which should go up for the student body vote in the spring, will create a firm money allocation process, stiffer guidelines for the election process and consistency in the writing of the Constitution itself.
“We have a strong foundation for the future,” Landisi says. “Students know what we’re doing, and the campus publications keep us on track. They let us know we can’t get away with inconsistencies in money allocation and rules in general.
“We were just flying by the seat of our pants two years ago, and now we have structure.”