Environmental students unite to stop resolution

The gallery was packed with environmental students at this week’s Associated Students Inc. meeting as the senate discussed their new resolution to remove the commissioner for environmental justice.

The resolution called for the removal of the commissioner who advises the ASI president’s on environmental issues. The position was one of the newer roles presented in last year’s ASI reorganization.

Yasmin Elasmar, co-author of the resolution and chief of diversity officer, emphasized that environmental sustainability organization Sustain U does the same work as the commissioner for environmental justice and the two entities overlap.

Elasmar said the commissioner for environmental justice is limited in their power.

“I don’t think the position is being used to the best of its ability,” Elasmar said. “That disrupts the effectiveness of the entire board.”

The motion failed to pass the resolution for its third reading 2-11-7.

The meeting kicked off with the current commissioner for environmental justice affairs, Lamiya Hoque, who claimed that she was not made aware of the resolution. She also is an assistant on the Sustain U team.

“My position at Sustain U is completely different from the environment justice commissioner,” said Hoque. “We all each individually do work together, but we all have our own mission.”

Her colleagues in the organization also spoke against the resolution in hopes of changing the senate’s mind.

“President Jane Conoley just finished approving the new presidential commission,” said Adeline Morley, president of the student sustainability coalition. “They have the environmental justice commissioner as a voting member, so if you take that role away, who is going to represent ASI on that commission?”

After listening to the students’ concerns, the senators held a second reading of the resolution.  

ASI president Joe Nino was asked if the commissioner for environmental justice did less work than the other commissioners. He quickly shut the argument down, emphasizing that the resolution had nothing to do with the commissioner, but only the position.

“This is just a reorganizational reevaluation,” Nino said. “The duties in that position are being done by other entities that also report to me. We are all being funded by student fees, so are we being fiscally responsible?”

ASI Executive Director Richard Haller pitched in with the argument that environmental justice is different than environmental sustainability.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. Sustainability, according to the agency, isn’t a part of their mission, but is a guiding influence for the environmental movement.

Haller added that Hoque is the commissioner of environmental justice, but was doing sustainability work.

“I’m not advocating one or the other, but if we have a commissioner for environmental justice, isn’t that where the commissioner’s focus should be?” Haller said.

Hoque argued that the environmental progress in student government would be hindered with the removal of her position.

“We can’t run around having a bunch of generalists in government, we need a specialist,” Hoque said. “It’s just one less voice advocating for the environment.”

One Comment

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    It is my opinion that the larger issue here is the idea of removing a commissioner because executives think their job is redundant and/or inefficient. When considering the removal of one position, the reasoning must be applied across the board, and in doing so one will find flaws in the reasoning.

    First let’s look at the reasoning of redundancy: is the position redundant because we have Sustain U and Beach Pride Events doing the same work? While Sustain U does have specialists and they do report to President Nino, those specialists have their own jobs, duties and missions to serve, and those do not include going out into the environmental community, listening to students and representing those students. Those specialists are staff members. Beach Pride Events may host programming that focuses on environmentalism, however, the duty of the commissioner is not to host programming, it is to represent the ASI president, address student concerns and find solutions if applicable. Sometimes those solutions may involve programming. Additionally, the existence of Sustain U and BPE carrying out the same duties is a flawed reason because most, if not all, of the other commissioners have university departments that also do their work. Again, it is a matter of having a majority of representatives for these communities, representatives that are made up of both staff and students.

    Second, lets look at the reasoning of inefficiency: is the position inefficient and not necessarily the most fiscally responsible position? Maybe. But even so, this position has only existed for one year (correct me if I am wrong), and after only one commissioner, it is far too early to decide if the position is inefficient in and of itself. I will stress again that any criticism of one position must be applied across the board. For example, the commissioner for Veterans affairs position is largely inefficient, but it would be absurd to remove that position. The Veteran community on campus is disengaged. The majority of them are older, have families, are farther along in their life’s path than other students, etc. It is not negative that they are disengaged, that is simply a characteristic of their demographic. The Veterans affairs commissioner seat often sits empty; because of this disengagement, it has been difficult to find someone to serve the role of commissioner of Veterans affairs. Even when the seat is filled, their work is often “inefficient” because the community they are serving simply isn’t involved. So should ASI get rid of that position because it is inefficient? No. Because those are our Veterans, they fought for our country and our freedom, and to remove a form of Veteran representation on campus would reflect terribly on the university.

    In short, if you are going to find reasoning to remove one position, you must apply those reasons to other positions.

    To address Richard Haller’s point: yes, he is correct. There is a discrepancy between the definition of environmental justice and the duties the environmental justice commissioner serves. However, removing the position entirely is not the answer. A re-evaluation of the position should be conducted in which either the role needs to be revised to fit the duties, or the duties need to be revised to fit the title of the role. It is not proper to simply strike the role entirely because of such an easy-to-correct problem.

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