ASU students breathed a sigh of relief following University President Michael Crow’s announcement that there would be no tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students during the 2014-15 school year.
The feeling of financial relief was, as it always is at ASU, short-lived, as the Tempe Undergraduate Student Government is considering imposing a mandatory $75-per-semester fee to help balance Sun Devil Athletics’ $10 million budget deficit.
On Oct. 1, The State Press reported that Sen. Devon Mills would lead a committee to research the athletics fee before the USG Senate voted to approve it. On Oct. 8, USG postponed the vote to allow officials time to better gauge the fee’s effects.
On Oct. 14, the members of all four campus USG Senates met to discuss the issue.
This is somewhat reminiscent of last March, when ASU unveiled the new Sparky design (which disgusted many and was later altered). There were concerns that students were not adequately involved in the decision-making process — and that’s just for our school mascot.
Last September, Tempe USG President Mark Naufel, USG Polytechnic President Jeffrey Hebert and USG Downtown President Joseph Grossman resigned their positions on the Arizona Students’ Association’s Board of Directors. This was only done after a vote to amend USG bylaws that required USG presidents to sit on the ASA board — a vote that was not publicized until after the fact.
The Tempe USG Senate often does not share information about meeting places or times on its Twitter or Facebook page (USG Downtown does, and in fact often live tweets its meetings), which does not allow easy access for those who might wish to attend and make their voices heard. The website is not regularly updated — as of Monday night, the meeting minutes had not been updated since Sept. 25, 2012. Earlier this semester, several ASU student organizations encountered difficulty obtaining USG funding. One club leader had issues stemming from a lack of information about USG’s appropriations deadlines, leaving the club without its USG funds totaling $500.
This “closed-door” aspect is unsettling and undemocratic. It would be better for all to expand access to meetings, in accordance with Arizona’s Open Meeting Law.
Arizona Revised Statute 38-431 requires that “meetings of public bodies be conducted openly and that notices and agendas be provided for such meetings which contain such information as is reasonably necessary to inform the public of the matters to be discussed or decided.”
Not only would USG benefit from increased public debate, students would feel more involved in their own government.
USG should seek greater student involvement in debating the athletics fee. If the athletics department is running at a $10 million deficit, though it already receives between $8 million and $10 million (about 15 percent) of its funding from student tuition, how could a $75-per-semester fee fix the problem?
It won’t. All students, regardless of whether they regularly attend ASU sporting events, would have to be charged this fee, on top of tuition, to close the deficit.
This is essentially a tuition hike by another name. Even if the tuition dollars were to be directed to other University initiatives, there is still little guarantee that this fee would solve the problem.
More money alone can’t solve our athletic department’s woes.
True, other universities also charge mandatory athletics fees, sometimes more than $650, as in the case of University of Virginia during the 2010-11 school year.
According to USG Downtown President Frank Smith III, tuition money that goes toward the athletics department may go to raises for teacher’s assistants, extended tutoring hours and childcare vouchers. The money from the athletic fee will be used for community outreach and marketing and may support a lottery system to distribute student tickets at games.
Building up ASU’s athletic program should obviously be priority for the athletics department, but we should be considering the opportunity costs. Are there better ways we could be spending our money? Are there better ways for the athletics department to allocate its funding?
Fixing the deficit won’t solve the department’s problems. Levying a student fee won’t improve the athletics programs’ records. This is an issue for public debate. USG and University officials should make every effort to come to an equitable solution for all parties — including, and especially, students.
USG will be hosting town hall meetings on each campus on Oct. 21 to get student input on the issue.
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