The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Meeting #2 Wrap-up

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 3 September 2008

This meeting was mercifully short, and really discussed only one important issue at length: the Student Affairs Fee.

Before I get into this, though, there are two broader points worth making:

1) In spite of what criticism has/will come out of this blog, President Bruce is a damn effective president. Having two years helps, but his wonkish knowledge about all things UA and Arizona-related ensures for an effective leadership that ultimately trickles down through the rest of ASUA. His Powerpoint presentations have been very forthcoming in history, process, and allocation of funds; overall, extremely impressive. The juxtaposition between the president and his subordinates (including the Senate) could not be greater.

2) The whole populist theme of being “your student government” is becoming more and more obnoxious by the hour; and increasingly, I find that it is not just over-the-top, but a bit facetious as well. The difference between the slogan and the action was best exemplified during the day’s reports, in which four different officials (by my count) discussed an event held at President Shelton’s house for student leaders on campus. Various anecdotes were supposedly told to show how much Shelton cares about the students, but the broader message was. “We get to party at the President’s house.” Rather than having longer discussions about improving life on campus (which, presumably, is what the official meetings are for), they instead recalled a house party.

Yet this also reflects a broader trend in dealing with campus issues. The inevitable solution, like those in higher offices that they seek to emulate, is the formation of a commission, or a program, or a council — none of which have any sort of impact on the issue at play. Can’t find healthy food on campus (which, incidentally, is a patent lie — the problem is the cost)? Form a healthy food committee, with a pithy acronym! Worried about about safety when walking home, at night and on the weekends? Form a Campus Safety Council, which meets during the week at 2 PM!

Ultimately, ASUA has little to nothing to do with the “average” UA student — much as legislators in Washington have little to nothing to do with the “average” American citizen. The whole “your student government” canard reeks of overcompensation. Just as the guy with an under-endowment can be heard grunting at the Rec Center, the student government that is completely inwardly focused and riddled with inside jokes will describe itself as “your” student government.

That having been said, the Student Affairs Fee (SAF). The first factoid to emerge is the curious way in which the SAF came to be. Initially, student fees were put to a vote, along with the rest of the ASUA elections, and ultimately failed. For the record, some pertinent paragraphs from a Wildcat editorial decrying the fee:

First, there’s been absolutely no unbiased information published about the fee. The union itself hosts the only Web site purported to contain “facts” about the fee.

Union leaders had initially rushed to put the fee on last month’s student government ballot but were denied because there wasn’t enough time to inform the public. The delay most likely helped the union, as the special election guarantees that only interested parties vote.

Finally, the biggest student group that would be bolstered by the fee is the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, which supervises the 541 clubs on campus.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that the biggest supporters of the fee are the students within CSIL. These ardent fee supporters will tell you that every student uses the union in some fashion – be it a study lounge or computer common – and that a “no” vote in some way endangers those aspects of the union.

In reality, the threat of the union closing down study lounges or suddenly losing computers is implausible at best. Furthermore, current plans for technology upgrades using fee funds call for ridiculous expenditures, such as $75,000 for plasma TVs that would be used for club advertising.

To avert another runaway election like the Rec Center referendum, students of all stripes must head to the polls today and vote “no.”

As much as things change, they stay the same. The initiative was ultimately destroyed at the polls, losing by over 40 points.

However, Bruce said during this presentation, referendums were not necessary for the fee to be enacted; there was also an administrative route (i.e. just add the damn thing in there without letting anyone know), or it could be enacted based on results from a student survey.

The rest, of course, is history: the survey was conducted, a representative sample was achieved (more on the results later), and the fee was added.

This is a very sneaky way to get a student fee added. The story reads something like this: officials in ASUA, GPSC, CSIL, etc. wanted a fee. The students had resoundingly said no. Rather than risk another failed vote, ASUA went to a survey, pretended that it represented the will of the UA, and tacked it on.

The survey did indeed have a greater sample size. Yet if this were the case, and students overwhelmingly supported a fee (as was implied), then why not put it to a vote? If this were really about the students and what they wanted, should they not be able to decide whether or not to up their own tuition?

Anyways, the survey resulted with the following numbers:
5,111 respondents

Freshman — 1346        26.3%
Sophomore— 772    15.1%
Junior—– 727    14.2%
Senior—- 883    17.3%
Graduate—–  1326        25.9%

According to the 2007-08 UA Fact Book, the overall percentages break down as follows:

34,751 total students

Freshmen —- 7,542  (21.7 %)
Sophomore — 6,045 (17.4%)
Junior —– 6,343      (18.3%)
Senior —— 8,740    (25.2%)
Graduate —– 6,870 (19.8%)

So we have freshmen and graduate students greatly over-represented, which ultimately results in a $50,000 increase for G.P.S.C. travel expenses, and $280,000 for student Union improvements (ironically enough, given the editorial on the 2006 fee, one of the listed improvements was an upgrade of the televisions in the TV lounge). Also, even with the “large” turnout of the survey, this is a sample size of less than 15 percent. Not bad for polling pre-information, but a bit tenuous to institute increased fees on.

Wisely, the freshmen pay an addition $20 per year, in addition to the current $20 per semester SAF (which will go up to $40 per semester by next year). This is a good first step, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to make sure that those living on-campus (and, therefore, benefiting the most from the improvements) could pony up even more of the costs. Two ideas:

1) Reduce the total fee amount on tuition, and apply a fee onto the cost of on-campus housing.

2) Rather than a flat fee (which is, frankly, lazy), apply the fee on a percentage basis, applying a greater percentage to the lower classes, discounting as a student works their way through the system (and, consequently, away from campus).

Right now, the big push on campus is marketing, what Bruce described as, “the most important part” of the future of the program. This involves placing the “Mark of the Fee” (yes, that is how it’s described; you really cannot make this up) at various restaurants and venues that use SAF funds. I wouldn’t be surprised if this made for a funny juxtaposition someday down the road.


3 Responses

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  1. […] 10th, 2009 The Desert Lamp has dealt with the canard of “your student government” before. But, being good empiricists, we like to test these hypotheses as well. To get a sense of where […]

  2. […] met survey-ocracy, direct representation’s stupid deformed kid brother, and the results aren’t promising. Allocating a set number of seats to various colleges or student constituencies might be a smarter […]

  3. […] worth rehashing a lot about what I wrote in one of my earlier Senate reports, where I mistakenly referred to the SSF as the SAF. The idea for this fee had been tossed around […]

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