ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government has been doing an abysmal job of involving students in the day-to-day decision-making on issues that directly affect them.
On Oct. 29, Tempe USG voted to approve Senate Bill 31, which will impose a mandatory $150-per-year fee that will go to subsidize Sun Devil Athletics.
Tempe USG followed the other four student government bodies (USG Downtown, USG West, USG Polytechnic and the Graduate and Professional Student Association) in passing the bill. It now goes to ASU President Michael Crow’s office, followed by the Arizona Board of Regents, for approval.
In an Oct. 16 editorial, The State Press criticized USG for failing to adequately inform the ASU community of the ongoing debate about SB 31.
In the two weeks since, USG has made no move to improve on its lackluster record of providing clear and useful information or to be more transparent in its dealings.
It does not appear that USG meant for the athletic fee bill to be made public before all parties had approved it. Tempe USG hosted a town hall meeting on Oct. 25 to allow public comments, while neglecting to mention that the other campuses were in the process of or had already voted to approve it.
This is not how a legislative body, on any level — national, state or local — ought to conduct itself.
This vote comes soon after a student newspaper at a small college in western California broke a story alleging its student government had been violating a California state law prohibiting closed sessions of legislative bodies except in very “specific circumstances.” The editor in chief of The Breeze, the student newspaper at Chaffey College, said she believes these closed sessions were meant to keep a reporter from covering the proceedings.
Our student leaders need to do a better job of keeping the vast student body reasonably informed of the issues that may affect them, including and especially instituting new fees on top of tuition.
Tempe USG president Jordan Davis told The State Press on Oct. 21 that the athletic fee would give students a better idea of how our tuition dollars are spent.
“What this does is increase transparency so everyone knows where their dollar is going, and no one wants to hear their money isn’t going to academic services if they’re paying for tuition,” Davis said.
The athletic department is reportedly running a $10 million deficit. The new fee would bring in an additional $10 million, replacing the current funding model fed by tuition.
Those tuition dollars would be redirected to academic purposes, including “pay raise(s) for graduate student teaching assistants, childcare services, providing free testing for students who want to attend graduate school, extended tutoring hours and weekend shuttles.”
It doesn’t add up. Under this plan, it stands to reason that the athletics department deficit would continue, yet we are assured that no more tuition money will go to fund athletics. It doesn’t look like the athletics fee will eliminate this deficit. If USG believes that it will, it should publicize that information. If members of USG have doubts, they should publicize those, as well.
ASU would not be the only university to implement an athletics fee. Many colleges charge students a fee that goes to fund athletics, sometimes more than $500.
According to polling information from Bloomberg News, “Students said they might be willing to pay more for services such as student centers and health care, though, on average, they favored sharp reductions in the cost of intercollegiate athletics.” The same poll found that 41 percent of respondents didn’t know if they paid athletic fees.
A basic fact of local governance is that those in power receive less scrutiny than national or even state politicians might. Most people don’t pay attention to local government on a regular basis, so it’s even more important for those leaders to be transparent.
In this case, transparency might mean providing up-to-date agendas and meeting minutes on the USG website, along with breakdowns of funding, more clearly worded bills, longer public comment periods and ensuring that more students have the opportunity to voice their opinions in USG meetings.
USG members need to reconsider who they were elected to represent.
Springing new fees and failing to inform students of USG business in a timely manner only alienates the student body from its government and leaves us with the hopefully mistaken impression that representatives are taking advantage of a poorly informed student body to ram through bills they know would be unpopular if students knew about it.
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