The Arizona Desert Lamp

Extremism in defense of students, equivocation in pursuit of votes

Posted in Campus, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 17 February 2009

The fight against fees continues today, with a guest column in the Daily Wildcat repeating our plea to stop punishing students with higher fees. From the article:

It’s troubling to think that there are potential fees outside the plethora that already exist. The Student Recreation Center takes two separate fees: one to pay for renovation bonds, and another that is adjusted for inflation (and thus continuously rising) for recreation programs. Students pay a fee each year to support the Arizona Students Association, an organization that has proven pitiful at fighting tuition increases and state budget cuts.

The Dean of Libraries has called for the $30 component of the Information Technology/Library fee to rise to $180 per student per semester. And on top of these, students pay fees for the Arizona Financial Aid Trust and KAMP Student Radio.

The latest addition to your tuition bill is the $20 Student Services Fee, imposed this year to pay for a smorgasbord of campus programs. Set to double to $40 next semester, Student Services is the most insidious fee of all.

$250,000 from your Student Services fee is dedicated to a direct subsidy for Arizona Student Unions, supporting $3 meals on Wednesdays. There’s no such thing as a free lunch (or even a discounted one), because the money you save at the Union comes straight out of your own pocket, and the pockets of thousands of unassuming peers. There’s no sign that this silly spending will end: $25,000 from the fee helped buy new plasma-screen televisions and $8,380 supports a student employee dedicated to “Video Gaming.”

The latest request for student input on the fee, emailed to students earlier this month, included proposals to spend your money on a new sound system for the Cellar, “lactation stations” in the Student Union, a three-day social justice retreat exploring “team synergy through drumming,” and the Union’s ever-popular “alcohol-free late night programs.” Plenty of new, expensive, and useless stuff: but the survey offered no option to spend less and give the money back to the struggling students who need it most.

Worst of all, the Student Services Fee was never even approved by the student body! When students voted on similar fees in 2005 and 2006, they failed resoundingly. So this time around, your student government tried a different strategy: imposing a fee based on the results of an unofficial survey, which was only released to the public after we requested it last week.

In all, if no new fees or increases are approved this semester, incidental fees will have nearly tripled from $51.73 in fall 2005 to $151.50 in fall 2009. Now, more than ever, students need elected officials who will protect them from the pernicious nickel-and-diming of student fees. They need representatives who remember the people that they serve, and who will respect and represent their interests accordingly. That’s why we’ve created the Arizona Student Fee Protection Pledge.

Read the rest at the Daily Wildcat.

We’ve already heard back from a few equivocal candidates, who say the pledge is “extreme.” They’re right: it’s probably the most extreme declaration of support for the student body that an ASUA candidate has ever been able to sign. It’s a little wild, definitely unprecedented–and that’s the point.

Sure, we’d like to see student leaders fight tuition increases. But if past and present cases are any indication, they’ll keep supporting higher tuition in exchange for never-fulfilled promises of “moderation” and “freezes.”  We’d like to see textbook prices drop, but ASUA’s a little hog-tied on that front. We’d like a little more transparency when it comes to the UA budget, a cause long advocated by the Lamp. But when it comes to fees, student leaders can take action now.

The reason many future politicians fear this pledge is because they realize that it is something tenable, something that they can be held accountable for, unlike the usual campaign platforms. This is not about vague sentiments toward “doing everything that I can” to prevent increasing costs, sentiments which usually remain as such, wistful odes before casting a vote to approve yet another appropriation. This is a genuine test, allowing those students following the election to discern between those who are serious about cutting your financial burden, and those who would rather simply talk the talk. There’s a reason we asked the candidates if they had the “courage,” rather than simply the ability to sign the pledge.

Then again, maybe we’ve been unclear. So here’s the full text of the pledge, one more time:

I pledge to the students of the University of Arizona that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase student fees for the duration of my term in office.

Candidates: your only obligation as a result of the pledge is to vote against attempts to increase student fees. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend more on worthwhile services. It doesn’t mean you can’t launch new projects or pursue your policy goals. It doesn’t even mean you can’t spend the revenue collected from current fees! It means exactly what it says: no new fees or fee increases for UA students. That’s it.

Over email, one Senate candidate lamented that although “I agree with your goal in that spending should be monitored more closely and alternatives to increaseing [sic] student fees should be exausted [sic] well before increasing student fees…that is not what the pledge is all about, though I wish it was.” Unfortunately, that’s dead wrong. The Arizona Student Fee Protection Pledge is about one thing: fighting unaccountable increases in the cost of college by preventing new fees and new fee increases at the University of Arizona. Is that too extreme for our student leaders?


3 Responses

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  1. Jimi Alexander said, on 17 February 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I’ll be all for the Video Gaming guy if he’ll bring Rock Band and Guitar Hero to the Cellar Games Room. $8,380 could pay for all the tiny plastic guitars and drums you could ask for. Hell, bring /something/ new to the games room. The newest thing in there is Tekken 5, which is already old enough to go to kindergarten. Otherwise, show his keester the door.

  2. Laura Donovan said, on 17 February 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Excellent column today, by the way. It was very informative and you clearly explained where all the fees are distributed. Most students don’t even think about where their money is going toward, so I think it was very wise of the two of you to lay out all the details.

  3. Alla said, on 17 February 2009 at 9:33 pm

    amazing wildcat column! good job!

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