How Entrenched Interests at UCSD Distort the Facts to Raise Student Fees
Alec Weisman, Alumni (Editor-in-Chief 2008-2011)
Originally posted on The Word From the Wise, Alec’s personal blog.
Washington DC – Two new ballot initiatives at the University of California, San Diego are in the works that if passed would raise student fees by $534 per year, an increase of more than 150 percent. The high stakes of these two referenda have prompted entrenched interests at UC San Diego to spread misinformation, half-truths, and factual distortions in an attempt to pass their fee hikes.
The most contentious of these referenda, the Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) Student Activity Fee Referendum, seeks to move UCSD from NCAA Division II to Division I. To do so, UCSD needs to increase the athletics budget by $13 million to be competitive, according to a $28,000 UCSD Feasibility Study by the consulting firm Athletics Staffing & Consultants released in March 2011. This referendum requires undergraduate students to pay an additional $165 per quarter, which will generate around $11 million for the athletics budget if enrollment remains the same. The fee would go into effect as soon as UCSD is accepted into the Big West conference, which must happen by September 30, 2014 or else the results of this referendum would be nullified.
The vote will be held on Tritonlink from Monday, February 27 and continue until Friday, March 9. Although UCSD moved to Division II in 2001, its top sports, fencing, men’s volleyball, and water polo, already compete at Division I. UCSD has debated moving to Division I since at least 2004, although prior to 2007 UCSD did not even offer athletic scholarships. These scholarships are estimated to compose about a third of the ICA operating budget if the referendum is approved.
The distortions begin with the “Pro Statement” on the referendum itself. It reads, “The Division I and Student Scholarships Referendum will raise nearly $8,000,000 per year in scholarships, $3,000,000 of which will go to student grants and aid, not just to athletes.” However, after mathematically calculating the fee breakdown of this referendum, it becomes apparent that only about $6 million will actually be raised from this new referendum, while the remaining $2 million comes from the prior $119.78 per quarter ICA Student Activity Fee.
The advocates of this referendum have also been engaged in secretive lobbying efforts. These have prompted a public outcry. First, a private Facebook message urging AS members to keep the publicity about the referendum on the “dl” was leaked to the public on February 1. In addition, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Penny Rue, has asked UCSD staff and departments to remain neutral on this referendum. She did this after a program assistant for the UCSD Recreation Services sent out a negative email urging students to get informed and vote on the referendum, prompting the director of the Recreation Department to issue an embarrassed apology for the email.
Nevertheless, the Triton Athletes’ Council is campaigning on behalf of the referendum and working to build its voter lists under the radar. Supporters claim that moving to Division I is of utmost importance. To make their point, they emphasize that moving to DI will help boost UCSD’s name recognition, prompt an increase in school spirit, and generate other “positive social effects.” These ambiguous and unquantifiable allegations are often tied to the assumption that moving to DI is inevitable and a critical investment in the university.
Yet as they clamor for Division I, these standard bearers appear to be blind to the realities in California. Several DI UC schools (UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UC Irvine) have cut some of their teams, while others (UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside) are reducing funding to their athletics departments. UCSD has seen more than a quarter of its state funding disappear between 2010 and 2012, and the state of California is considering borrowing as much as $200 million from the UC and CSU systems in March because of their high credit ratings. The state currently owes the UC system $1.7 billion from past borrowing.
Opponents of the referendum have also fought to make their voices heard, explaining that the benefits from joining DI are exaggerated. According to a 2007 NCAA-commissioned study, every university that moved from DII to DI between 1993 and 2003 suffered multimillion-dollar losses. Only 19 of 119 Division 1 schools in the country were profitable in 2006, while the other schools had negative median revenue of $8.9 million. In addition, the only D1 programs that generated any profit were men’s basketball and football. It should be noted that three of the top five highest paid state employees are coaches at UCLA and Berkeley.
These critics recognize that the funding plan for moving to D1 assumes that UCSD will generate around half a million dollars ($550,000) per year from increased ticket sales, donations, and sponsorships. Yet if this goal is not met, the burden will likely be placed on students that will already be paying $3,417 over four years. UCSD students currently pay 95 percent of the athletic budget from student fees, which cover $6.9 million out of the annual $7.3 million athletic budget. This far exceeds average schools in the Big West Conference, in which students typically only support around 35 percent of the athletic budget.
Even more alarming is the revelation that the UCSD Health System is sponsoring the San Diego Chargers for more than $300,000 per year. This hospital giant made more than $900 million in 2011, with almost $150 million as profit. This year alone, UCSD Health System paid its associate vice chancellor a $600,000 salary and purchased the bankrupt Nevada Cancer Institute for $18 million. Rather than help share the burden of DI with their students, the university appears content to allow undergraduates to raise their own fees to support athletics.
Another referendum seeking to go to a vote this year would increase the University Center’s Advisory Board’s (UCAB) University Center’s (UCEN) Fee by an additional $39 per year, which would bring the total UCEN fee to $268 per year. AS is set to decide whether to approve the referendum on February 29. According to the Student Life Business Office, the University Centers (which includes Price Center, the Old Student Center, and the Che Café) has been in debt since the 2010-2011 academic year. Students rejected this ballot referendum last year when UCEN asked for a $15 per year fee. However, the half-truths have already begun to flow from supporters of this referendum.
According to notes from a meeting on February 22 between the AS Representative to UCAB Jeremy Akiyama and the Interim Director of University Centers, Sharon Van Bruggen, UCEN is considering possible actions to respond to decreasing revenues and increasing costs. Some of these threats, such as removing 24-hour access to Price Center, closing several stores, and reducing the availability of student org offices amount to a breach of contract. These amenities, among others, were guaranteed within the 2003 Price Center expansion referendum and UCEN cannot threaten to remove them just to pass a referendum.
The UCSD Associated Students is very inconsistent with deciding what referenda should be a priority. In the past six years, AS has seriously considered at least nine referenda. Of those, five have gone to a vote and four have passed. Once a referendum becomes voted in, the fees essentially become locked in forever. Last year the AS President Alyssa Wing killed a proposed referendum of $8 per quarter that could have stopped the Center for Library and Instructional Computing Services (CLICS) from closing, recognizing that it was dangerous to expand student fees to cover the library. Students eventually reclaimed and reopened the library in December with the tacit support of administrators, who had decided not to further antagonize students.
Yet the AS pushed for and passed the $21 per year Promoting Understanding and Learning through Service and Education (PULSE) Referendum in 2007, which established the Student Promoted Access Center for Education and Service (SPACES), Academic Success Program (ASP), and Student Initiated Outreach and Recruitment Commission (SIORC). SPACES has used this money to promote a radical agenda through their publication, the Collective Voice. Not only is the Collective Voice exempt from issuing a disclaimer in its issues because it is not a “registered media organization,” but the two editors of the Collective Voice are paid $3,500 per year from student fees, which violates UCSD AS funding policies.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) defends “individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience.” FIRE is a firm opponent of referenda that violate viewpoint neutrality (such as SPACES) and force students to fund “groups that advocate ideas they find morally or politically unacceptable.” The Supreme Court ruled in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth (2000) that public universities cannot force students to fund specific organizations even if they win a referendum.
Adam Kissel, the Vice President of Programs for FIRE elaborated on referenda like PULSE. “UCSD cannot base allocation decisions about mandatory student activity fees upon the outcomes of student referenda, even when they are merely advisory. This is viewpoint discrimination that crowds out minority views.” Nevertheless, referenda remain an attractive tool of the UCSD Associated Students to promote their cause du jour.
As students prepare to vote on these referenda they should consider if the Associated Students even has the moral authority to impose fees on UCSD students at all. By voting in favor of these fees, students give the AS the legitimacy to ask for more money. By voting in favor of these fees, students give the administration the incentive to promote entrenched interests by any means necessary. It is time to stand up and protect your liberty. Enough is enough. Now is not the time for more referenda.