Feature: UA Student Body President Tommy Bruce

Posted on May 6, 2009

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Brian Mori

Journ 206

Feature

5/6/09

For two years, while tens of thousands of wildcats battled daily to find parking spots, Tommy Bruce, 21, only had to drive on up into any one of the campus’ designated service vehicle spaces, one of the primo perks of being president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.

Having spent an average of 18 hours a day, every day, for the last two years bouncing between classes, his office, the administration building, and in and out of meetings all around the state, Bruce says it’s only fair he get to park for free, and close.

During his tenure as top executive of the UA student government, Bruce oversaw nearly 2 dozen student-lead agencies, programs, functions, and hosted dozens of events. He served as the student body’s primary spokesperson, representative, and liaison to administrators.

Fortunately for Bruce, his seemingly endless days of meetings and speeches weren’t lived alone. Throughout his tenure, at Bruce’s sides were nearly fifty students, some elected, others hired as staff to coordinate and facilitate the operations of the university’s student government.

Together with club leaders, campus organizers, and the occasional food delivery people, they all kept Bruce and the third floor of the UA Student Union Memorial Center in constant motion, nearly around the clock.

Whether drafting proposals, organizing events, doing homework, or kicking back and sharing a meal together on one of the offices’ several red upholstered couches, the ASUA-HQ was easily one of the last places on campus these last two years where one could find any sign of life late on a week night other than the libraries.

Thursday was no exception. Long after the housekeeping staff disappeared the last recycle bin of its typical menagerie of computer and multicolored construction paper scrapings, Bruce, and his Executive and Administrative Vice Presidents Jessica Anderson and Seema Patel solemnly filled cardboard boxes with pictures, plaques, pennants, and papers and stacked them in the hallways outside their offices.

“It’s extremely weird. You do something for so long, and to think tomorrow you’ll never do it again,” Bruce said as he tore a poster advertising Wednesday’s Jay Z stadium concert off a wall in his office.

By noon the following day, when ASUA President-elect Chris Nagata was inducted into office, the only remaining footprints of the Bruce administration were two walls of framed pictures, magazine covers, and newspaper articles featuring their various public triumphs and tribulations.

“It’s like nothing else I’ve ever had. It’s hard for people who have never been (president) to know … you have a lot of first hand experiences where you’ve actually done something that has significantly helped or improved someone’s life. I’m never going to be a doctor,” Bruce said.

He came on the ASUA scene a freshman in 05, ambitious for an executive position.  By his sophomore year he was chief of staff for then-president Aaron Hertzog and director of multiple ASUA programs.

By his junior year, then 19-year-old Bruce was the youngest student body president in UA history. “I knew I wanted to run the second day I was on campus, because (student government) is not a joke here,” he said.

Under his administration, ASUA completely revamped several programs including safe-ride and ZonaZoo, and created new ones like A-Town, a social justice workshop educating students about succeeding in a multicultural world. Bruce’s ASUA expanded club advocacy positions, community outreach programs, and is credited with increasing publicity and student retention through events like Bear Down Fridays and special event concerts.

“His love for his work is contagious,” said Student Regent David Martinez III, “He lives with no regrets and it shows.”

Martinez, a senior political science and education major has been a colleague and friend for years. While he has occasionally taken different political stances, he said it’s hard to say a bad word about such a good guy and friend.

“He can be serious when you need him to be serious and other times he can just be jubilant and have a good time,” Martinez said. “He really just bounces off the walls and is able to have fun, make others laugh, and lift everyone’s spirit.”

“Working with Tommy has been absolutely my favorite thing in college,” said Anderson, who simultaneously served as Bruce’s Exec VP and president of XXX sorority. Though she’s often had to play the role of “Debbie downer” to Bruce’s idealism, Anderson said it was his ability to relate to people and maintain focus that is beyond criticism.

“Even when we share the ultimate opinion, we always have different reasoning,” said Anderson “It’s a sick function of us being able to finish each other’s sentences.”

David Roost, executive director of ZonaZoo said Bruce was a great boss. He was challenging, demanding, but on target. “Some people want a boss who’s going to hold their hand and baby them … (Bruce) doesn’t work on that kind of time frame.”

In an email Sunday, University of Arizona President Robert Shelton couldn’t recall the first time he’d met Bruce. “It seems like I’ve always known Tommy,” he wrote. Shelton did not have any critique for Bruce but praised his superior communication skills and fastidious attempts to understand the complexity of university bureaucracy and finances.

“I hope Tommy will pursue a career path that engages him with people and results

in a leadership role,” Shelton wrote.

Bruce said he had mixed feelings about running for a second term but now has no regrets. Though he said the two terms were challenging in completely different ways. “My first year could’ve been 1950; my second year could’ve been 2000.”

The 08-09 school year presented several new challenges for Bruce and ASUA they had neither the experience nor insight for which to prepare. Drastic cuts to education by the state legislature and several incidents involving negative press in the student media blemished many of ASUA’s record for this year.

A brief scan of Daily Wildcat Mailbag comments for any given period during Bruce’s term will yield an array of opinions of both those who see the organization as a vital, though troubled part of the university, and those who condemn it as a redundant middle-man of university bureaucracy.

Shain Bergan covered ASUA for the past two years in his beat for the Wildcat and said he’s going to miss both Bruce and Anderson personally and professionally. “I like to give them credit where credit’s due,” Bergan said and complimented Bruce on being a strong, innovate, and passionate natural leader.

Though Bergan acknowledge several accomplishments of Bruce’s administration, and said he truly believed Bruce was fully devoted to the UA students, he felt his administration cold have done a much better job of being transparent and open with the public.

“I feel the feeling around ASUA is that ‘ok, if it can be kept secret, keep it secret,” said Bergan. “If you know a story’s going to come out that could put you in not so good a light, get in front of that. Own it. They were never very good about that, Tommy and Jessica.

He referenced several highly publicized ASUA controversies including the failure of ASUA to turn a profit from the KanYe West Concert in Spring 08, concerns over the cost of the 09 Jay Z concert in which he said Bruce and Anderson were unnecessarily guarded, an attitude that he said is noticeable throughout all levels of ASUA.

Bergan discussed his disappointed in ASUA’s response to the November 08 Keith Knight comic scandal during which Bruce publicly accused the Wildcat of irresponsible and insensitive publishing practices for printing a political cartoon that sparked a race scandal that made national news. (See Bullet 1)

Bergain was also deeply concerned with ASUA’s lack of accountability during its 09 election process. Despite allegations of ballot tampering and even fraud, Bruce ignored the Wildcat’s call for a second election without public explanation.

“It was clear they wanted their boy (Nagata) to get it,” said Bergan. Chris Nagata had served in several ASUA positions before running for president.  Bergan is hopeful that Nagata’s administration will have learned from both Bruce’s successes and failures. (See Bullet 2)

Bruce said misperceptions about who he is and occasional slander are a part of the job that he has gotten used to. “I have people I meet who are like ‘Oh, you’re not an asshole,” he said. “I do not do everything right. I’ll be the first to admit it, and the last to admit it.” If not for the people around him along the way, he said he may have lost confidence to do his job.

Bruce said he’s hopeful for the future of ASUA. “I have seen somewhat of a change in the wind, as an office, as an ability to make our selves more open. But it’s the furthest thing from perfect, we can always do better.”

What he’ll miss most, he said, are the people he said. Well, and his parking pass.

Bruce has two brothers, Andrew, 20 and C.J., 23. Though he said he doesn’t regret anything about his UA experience, he wishes he could have spent more time with his family and the other people in his life.

He hasn’t had time for romance and declined to discuss any plans for dating in the future.

During the rare times he’s not working, he likes to travel around the state, hike, and sometimes party with friends. “I like shots, I believe in efficiency” he said in an email.

He has a plane ticket for New York City where he’s secured residence in the New York University Dorms over the summer and has enough money for a few months of fun. He has no idea what he’s going to do but he’s just glad to get out of Tucson.

Before he leaves, he’ll try to use his status as a former ASUA president to get access to explore the tunnel that runs under the campus. He doesn’t think it will happen.

Tommy Bruce in a nutshell:  (Boxes?)

Hometown: Tucson

High School: Sabino Canyon

Major: Business Administration and Marketing – Eller School of Business Management.

G.P.A.: About 3.0 – “Uhhh, It has character (and) reflects the other things I do in my life.”

Future plans: Go to law school or get an MBA, “But that day is not today.”

Favorite memory: “Every single sporting event with the ZonaZoo.”

Haunting memory: “The amount of Panda Express I have consumed over 4 years.”

Most proud moment: Building up the credibility of ASUA and the students’ understanding of what they do. “I think we’ve done a lot better over the last few years.”

Least Proud moment: Balancing anything outside of ASUA. “I let that get away from me … I didn’t need to spend four a.m. in the office every night of the week.”

Time Management: At the end of the day there is no perfect balance of time management.

Coolest part of being President:  Field passes to football games and having a real

relationship with President Shelton, beyond pleasantries.

Most challenging moments: Virginia Tech and the Mia Henderson murder (08 Graham-Greenlee stabbing)

Random: Bruce won a golf cart in 2007 as a contestant on the CBS game show “The

Price is Right.” He sometimes drives it around campus.

He was president of his middle and high schools, and was told by

a guidance counselor that he would someday be ASUA president.

“I was like, I don’t know what that is.”

Bruce claims he didn’t touch a drop of alcohol before he turned 21.

He celebrated his 21st b-day at Bison-Witches, North, and in Las Vegas.

Bruce still lives with his friends from his freshman year, Andrew, Adam,

and Brian in a house near 22 street and Plummer Avenue.

Bruce denies widespread and persisting rumors that he’s gay. (had no idea

how to work this is in)

“Life’s an impossible balance. Always keep in the back of your mind

working toward balance.”

Bullet 1: On Nov. 8, 2009, a comic by syndicated African American political cartoonist Keith Knight appeared in the Daily Wildcat depicting an actual historical event that occurred on the Obama campaign trail. In the comic, a female canvasser was told by an elderly white couple they were “voting for the nigga.” The comic caused outrage among what UA President Shelton’s office called “a small minority” of students. Bruce and ASUA officials appeared on local and even national media, denouncing the Wildcat and its staff for insensitivity and even direct attacks on minority populations.

Then-editor Lauren Lepage publicly apologized for the comic, saying the timing of its publication was a mistake. Though ASUA has no oversight over the paper, senators held meetings to discuss the institution of mandatory sensitivity training for all Wildcat staff, an act that could be interpreted as punitive under U.S. common law.

Both ASUA and the Wildcat were heavily criticized in letters to the editor for their decisions and responses to the situation. For weeks, readers wrote widely varying opinions. Some calling the situation an indication of institutionalized racism, others condemning ASUA for infringing upon the separation of government and the press. Knight appeared at the UA weeks later to discuss his work. He said his comics are meant to inspire thought, not controversy, and he was proud of Lauren Lepage’s leadership during the scandal. Only Executive VP Seema Patel was in attendance from ASUA, no Wildcat staff were present.

Bullet 2: In March 09, a complaint was filed by Shane Cathers, then-candidate for ASUA president, against Bruce’s administration alleging bias – specifically in how and where presidential write-in candidate Chris Nagata’s name appeared on the general ballot. ASUA altered the ballot mid-election to appease all parties, but Nagata’s name remained, despite having not met ASUA requirements for general candidate status.  Nagata won in a landslide victory. Cathers, a Pima College transfer student, said he wrote to UA President Shelton after the election, asking for the ASUA election code to be revised. As of semester’s end 2009, no revisions have been made.

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