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The Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President is one of the most recognizable figures on-campus. However, their visibility around campus does not secure the student body’s understanding of their role and powers. Despite being in her last quarter of college, business administration senior Kailey Sanchez still has a shaky idea of what the ASI president does.

“They just go to meetings and stuff, right?” Sanchez said. “It’s not like I think they’re doing nothing, I just haven’t personally reached out or learned more about it. It’s kind of one of those things when you’re involved you’re super involved, but if you’re not involved you really don’t know anything about it.”

During ASI elections, many students become more aware of ASI’s presence on campus. Jasmin Fashami was elected as ASI president for 2018-2019 school year April 26. Yet, even some of Fashami’s supporters are still confused about the position she will fill once officially taking office this summer.

Anthropology and geography sophomore Maura Carrick voted for Fashami, but said she has not personally noticed ASI presidents initiating change in the past.

“Her voice is the one that is really important right now. So I think it would be great if she was more proactive in being an active voice on campus,” Carrick said. “It’s [the ASI President’s] role to bridge the gap between administrative decisions and the student body. It should be their role, but I feel like, as a student, I don’t really feel their impact very much or hear their voice.”

Common misconceptions 

Jason Colombini, 2013-2014 ASI president, wrote to Mustang News about this disconnect between ASI and the student body.

“I think there’s all kinds [of misconceptions], you could talk to 10 different people on campus and you’d hear 10 different answers about what the ASI President’s role is,” Colombini wrote. “There is a constant misunderstanding of who ASI is in general and what they do.”

Sometimes candidates for the ASI presidency have little understanding of the role themselves. Joi Rogers served as 2014-2015 ASI president and often saw campaign platforms with overreaching promises.

“Campaigning is always funny once you’ve been in ASI as an organization — people say they are going to do X, and you’re just thinking, they don’t fully understand how the process of the university works,” Rogers said. “The ASI President kind of carries a unique balance of a role, because they serve as a representative, but they also serve as the technical head of a 501(c)(3) organization. The majority of the organization is run by the Board of Directors, the student representatives. In that sense the ASI President does not have full control over the organization.”

Checks and balances

While the ASI President serves as the head of ASI Board of Directors, they hold no voting power. Many of the initiatives the ASI President campaigns under and proposes requires the approval of the Board of Directors before it can be put into action. For example, the ASI monetary reserves can only be tapped into with a two-thirds vote from the Board. The Board of Directors did not always hold this power over the president — up until the late 1980s, the Board of Directors was named the Student Senate and its relationship with the president was more free.

“After a move to a corporate structure instead of a student senate structure, the ASI President lost autonomy and veto power over the Board of Directors,” Colombini wrote.  “I think the checks and balances got out of whack where the President has no check on the Board and the Board has exclusive check on the President.”

Rogers sees limitations and checks on ASI Presidents as overall beneficial.

“In some ways I want to give the ASI President more actual power in the sense that they can do some tangible things on campus, but there’s a downside to that,” Rogers said. “Most of the presidents elected are 20 or 21 — we have a very limited life experience and we’re only on that campus for four or five years.”

The student voice

Of the past five ASI Presidents Mustang News interviewed, all generally stated that the primary role of the ASI President was to be a voice for the students. This broad role can make the actual responsibilities of ASI President too abstract to pin down. Riley Nilsen, current ASI President, breaks down the day in and day out of presidential responsibilities.

“Being ASI President is more than just fulfilling a platform,” Nilsen wrote. “It’s co-chairing five campus-wide committees with administrators, it’s sitting on multiple councils and boards representing Cal Poly students, it’s making sure the right questions are being asked to administration and that the student perspective is always, always, considered in every decision.”

While many ASI Presidents attempt to carry out their platform and campaign promises, the work is slow and involves jumping through many bureaucratic loops, making ASI presidential progress difficult to discern.

“Many goals or promises are multi-year projects. While this wouldn’t be a problem in the working world, it does form a problem when you only have one academic year,” Colombini wrote. “I think it is hard for some ASI presidents and students to see that big changes have to start somewhere, and many take a few years to finish.”

Even if an ASI President is not able to fulfill their campaign goals, Rogers still sees an undeniable value in their representative role.

“Your ASI President is supposed to represent your voice, so any chance you have to talk with your ASI president or student representatives, you have to take it. They were elected to serve you — if people ran for these positions to serve themselves they’ll burn out, you can’t do it,” Rogers said. “People need to remember that a student is in that job and they are balancing a full student schedule while trying to do the best for the school they love dearly.”

ASI presidential timeline

To see what ASI Presidents can and cannot actually accomplish, as well as how presidential initiatives play out over the years, see the timeline of the past five ASI presidencies below.

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