Bay Area college strikes a controversial policy following student outcry
Photo courtesy of Associated Students of Ohlone College President Talha Tariq.

In a resounding victory for students, the Ohlone College District Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to eliminate a controversial policy that student leaders claim silenced them and led to an abuse of power.

The move ends an impasse between top college leaders and a fierce group of student activists who said their voice was being silenced by the administration. At the center of the conflict was a provision in Ohlone’s student government constitution that grants the school president the power to act against the wishes of the student government majority.

In a separate but related vote, the board freed up funding for student activities reportedly frozen by administrators during the dispute. The student leaders say the move was intended to intimidate them into meeting the administration’s demands.

The 6-1 vote to approve the budget was met with cheers and applause from the Associated Students of Ohlone College and its supporters. The lone dissenting vote came from Trustee Jan Giovannini-Hill.

The decision to strike the provision from the student constitution passed without discussion earlier in the meeting.

Associated Students of Ohlone College President Talha Tariq spoke out about the injustices he says the student leaders faced with the former constitution and the limits placed on them from the administration.

“This whole summer has been squandered,” he said.

Without an operating budget, Tariq said plans to make an orientation video, host an event to train club leaders and launch a webpage with frequently asked questions for new students were put on hold.

A battle between the Associated Students of Ohlone College and the administration began after the students say they felt like they were being suppressed by the Ohlone College President Gari Browning. The students pointed to multiple “abuses of the power” granted from the policy over the last several months and have fought to remove it.

They won support from Assembly candidate Alex Lee and created an online petition that garnered more than 350 signatures. In addition, Tariq and ASOC Vice President Tiffany Dang traveled to Sacramento to speak out about the issue at a Board of Governor’s meeting.

Among their complaints of abuse, the students say that Browning threw out the students’ decision to maintain requirements for joining the Associated Government and prohibited the student leaders from endorsing a letter requesting a more efficient transit system between the college’s Fremont and Newark campuses.

Browning did not initially respond to requests for comment, but the administration issued a statement in July after this news organization published a story about the issues.

“In June 2019, five newly elected ASOC officers unilaterally made the decision to throw out the existing student government constitution and its bylaws without seeking input from the student body or a vote as has been conducted in previous constitutional changes,” the statement read. “The ASOC constitution, which previous generations of student leaders have used, was developed to ensure that the will of the student body, rather than that of a few individuals, is reflected in any changes. The students’ actions in this regard have been untethered from legal requirements such as the Brown Act.”

The student leaders responded by stating that the decision to amend the ASOC Constitution and bylaws “was done after seeking input from a variety of Ohlone students on how the ASOC could better serve their needs.”

Before the vote on Wednesday, some trustees said they were impressed with the advocacy and organizing done by the students, which led to the changes.

“I fully support giving you your money so you can go out and provide those services,” said Trustee Tawney Warren. “Take this as a lesson to your fellow students. Advocacy works but it takes getting actively involved like you’ve done.”

On Thursday, Tariq said the student leaders were tired but happy with the results.

“I learned a lot and met a lot of people,” said Tariq. “I really want to start focusing more on rebuilding the student government into something independent. Something that is able to check the administration if they ever do something like this again.”

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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