Arizona Governor Jan Brewer yesterday signed a bill that bans the use of student fee money for lobbying on legislation or support for independent state or national organizations. The new law dismantles the funding model under which the Arizona Students Association has operated since 1998, and may well mean the end of that group.
The ASA came under attack by lawmakers last fall after it donated more than a hundred thousand dollars to a ballot measure that would have used a sales tax surcharge to support education funding in the state. As tensions rose, several campus student government leaders resigned from the ASA board. The state board of regents suspended collection of ASA’s fees, at which point ASA initiated a lawsuit against the state.
The new law apparently renders that lawsuit moot.
ASA was created by the Arizona Board of Regents in 1974, but was granted independence — and student fee funding — in 1998. That fee was raised to $2 per student per semester in a 2008 referendum. Unlike many statewide student associations, ASA seems to have had no provision mandating regular re-endorsement of its membership fee by students.
ASA leadership has said they will explore their options going forward, but the law’s reach extends beyond the statewide association. Campus membership in groups like the United States Student Association is also banned, as well as the establishment of new student-funded organizations. Additionally, students are forbidden from using student fee money to attempt to influence legislation in the state.
Update | I don’t know much about the internal politics of the ASA, or the sources of the divisions between students that seem to have compounded this crisis. The new law does, however, remind us that the distinction between “student government” and “student activism” is to some degree an artificial one. This law ties the hands of student activists both inside and outside student government, and makes the project of establishing and maintaining independent student organizations in Arizona far harder. The fact that many student government leaders in the state broke with ASA in the lead-up to the passage of the law highlights the dangers that are present when activist campus movements are at odds with elected student governments.