The Arizona Desert Lamp

100% of Nothing

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 9 February 2009

The Wildcat gets around to the erevnocracy today, and gets this bizarre quote from GPSC President Stephen Bieda:

“The Student Services Fee is meant to supplement and help make better the quality of life for students on campus,” Bieda said. The fee is “100 percent decided and managed by students.”

It’s 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 for a while, and was put on the ballot in 2006. An admirable editorial at the time denounced the fee:

The signs of a flawed election are far too familiar to UA students, who in the fall saw the Student Recreation Center referendum passed in a terrible process similar to the one starting today.

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.

. . .

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.

The fee, when students had a chance to actually directly take a stance on it, was rejected by 70 percent of those voting. As for those plasma TVs? If you look at the breakdown [PDF] of the Fall ’08 disbursement of funds, you will find $25,000 allocated to “TV Lounge remodel/plasmas.” The editors also proved to be prescient in their predictions about the unions:

UA student unions will not be making program cuts and lay-offs this upcoming year, which were originally thought necessary because of a failed student fee proposal last semester, but union officials said they are still looking for answers for their budget crisis.

Since students had wildly rejected this proposal at the polls, ASUA and GPSC did what any good political body would do: find a way to work around the people; thus, the infamous erevnocracy. It’s worth highlighting this disingenuous and entirely anti-democratic argument by President Shelton, as described by an editorial at the time:

In his annual tuition proposal, President Robert Shelton called support for a student fee “comprehensive and impressive,” noting that “twice as many students responded to the Web-based survey, compared with other student referenda, and 78 percent of the respondents supported some level of student services.” But the student fee survey is a pitiful referendum at best. Only 2,490 undergraduate students took this year’s fee survey, conducted in early October.

The idea that a survey means more than an election is pretty troubling statement for any public figure to make. The fee was then voted on, and approved, by the Arizona Board of Regents:

In addition to the tuition increase, the regents passed Shelton’s proposed $40 student services fee, which will double the following year [Emphasis added – EML] . The fee will help fund student support programs, such as campus safety, health and counseling services.

Campus, since then, has become remarkably safe, now that we’ve effectively cracked down on the pot smokers who were causing all of the trouble in the first place. But the broader point is this — the fee, strongly rejected by students in a campus-wide election, was then implemented through use of a duplicitous survey, used by the appointed President Shelton (who does not represent the students, but rather the institution as a  whole) to overturn this will of the student body, and voted on by the Arizona Board of Regents, an appointed body from the state government with virtually no connection to the student.

This brings us to the current problem of how the fee is allocated. Perhaps, if we give President Bieda the benefit of the doubt, we might be able to say that even though the fee was forced through without any real student support, it now serves them well, at their discretion.

Yet reading the Background Info [PDF] about the fee, we find that this is not at all the case:

The Student Services Fee Allocation Board recommends funding priorities to the  Vice President for Student Affairs each year.

. . .

University oversight of the Board is provided through the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, and procedures follow established University  business procedures and policies.  The Board recommends funding priorities to the Vice President for Student Affairs each year.

The redundancy here underscores the fact that the Board compromised of students only has the ability to recommend priorities. Ultimately, the power to actual allocate funds lies with the VP for Student Affairs — who is not elected by students, is not a student, and who is really more beholden to the institution that writes his check. In reality, students have no actual control over how this money is spent — their only power comes in persuasion. Pretending that this current process is more legitimate than an actual election on the issue is outrageous.

5 Responses

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  1. […] in Politics by Connor Mendenhall on February 12th, 2009 Our Student Services Fee may be a real anti-democratic porker, but as Inside Higher Ed reports, there are more fees in heaven and earth to be dreamt of by UA […]

  2. […] explained how the Student Services Fee was never approved by the student body, and how an unrepresentative, poorly conducted survey was used as a duplicitous instrument to […]

  3. […] charts would come from, Mr. Yamaguchi pointed toward the democratically-chosen, wisely allocated, student controlled Student Services Fee, and its anticipated […]

  4. […] on April 5th, 2009 As if the litany of other absurdities associated with the Student Services Fee weren’t enough, recipients of SSF money must use some of the funds to pay for the ‘Mark of the […]

  5. […] – you mean to tell me that there are campuses where students actually vote on their fees? Where elected student legislatures actually approve or deny requests for new fees? […]

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