ASUCI Representatives Oppose Student Center Fee Referendum, Question Fund Management

In the midst of this week’s elections, ASUCI legislative council members opposed to the Student Center/Cross-Cultural Center Referendum are questioning the Student Center’s management of funds and the future of services and amenities provided at these sites.

The Student Center/Cross-Cultural Center Referendum, open for online voting this week, calls for continuation of the $136.50 per-student per-quarter fee, in effect since 2007, to maintain study rooms, extended hours during finals week and event spaces for campus organizations among other services and amenities. To pass, the referendum requires a minimum of 7,500 votes cast, of which at least 60 percent must be in favor.

Some ASUCI representatives are opposing the Student Center/Cross-Cultural Center Referendum on this week's ballot, claiming that the $47.50 fee is "bailing out" the Center's misspending. (Courtesy of UCI Student Affairs)

Some ASUCI representatives are opposing the Student Center/Cross-Cultural Center Referendum on this week’s ballot, claiming that the $47.50 fee is “bailing out” the Center’s misspending. (Courtesy of UCI Student Affairs)

The $136.50 per-student per-quarter fee was initially approved in spring quarter 2001 to fund a Phase 4 addition to the UCI Student Center.  The Student Center addition was completed in 2007, and includes study and lounge space, a food court, increased Cross-Cultural Center space and additional meeting and conference rooms. However, the 2001 fee initiative also provided for a “$47.50 fee reduction per quarter in Fall 2017 when the current loans are paid off.”

According to the UCI Student Center site, this $47.50  per-student per-quarter reduction should not be implemented because of several factors including inflation, a “175 percent rise in registered student organizations” and an “unanticipated increase in campus assessments.”

Per the Student Center, the $47.50 reduction beginning in Fall 2017 would cause “student support for Student Center services [to] drop by $4 million” while “debt service will only drop by $2 million.”

Recognizing that the fee reduction could result in financial instability to the Student Center, ASUCI legislative council submitted a Request for Action to the Executive Vice President in early March, asking that the Student Center Fee Initiative to maintain the current fee be added to the Spring 2016 election ballot so students would be able to vote on the referendum.

However, many ASUCI legislative council members argue that the shortfall factors and the need to maintain the current fee were not due to unanticipated circumstances, but rather because of the mismanagement of funds. Many members are upset that the $47.50 per-student per-quarter fee reduction would not go in place in Fall 2017, as was intended by students in the original 2001 fee initiative.

Alvin Phan, At-Large Representative of the ASUCI Finance Committee, believes that the referendum is simply a means to relieve the Student Center of its debt.

“They mismanaged student fees, didn’t end up paying their loan on time, and students are being asked to bail them out,” said Phan.

In response to the shortfall factors provided by the Student Center, such as an “unanticipated increase in campus achievements” and “inflation that was never accounted for,” Phan argues that all operations were clearly described in the 2001 fee initiative and that inflation “doesn’t justify an exorbitant misspending of student fees.”

Moreover, Miguel Olvera, Humanities Representative of the ASUCI Advocacy Committee, presented a document published on Saturday entitled “Notes on Agency and Crisis” in response to the referendum.

Olvera criticized the rhetoric used by the Student Center’s campaign, which he believes serves to equate students to heroes, suggesting that their vote of “yes is to ‘save the Student Center’ and ‘Continue the Legacy’ of the Student Center and Cross-Cultural Center.”

He also argues that ultimately Chancellor Howard Gillman has the “constitutional right to pass the referendum and implement any fee at his discretion,” making the referendum meaningless.

“Giving students the opportunity to ‘make a decision’ (that has already been made for them) exculpates administration from that decision or its effects in the near or distant future,” said Olvera.

In his document, Olvera also questions whether the amenities which the referendum seeks to maintain will actually be provided after passage of the referendum. Olvera mentions that mental health facilities and services on campus may replace the existing Courtyard Study Lounge, the new eSports program will require a reorganization of the Student Center’s Zot Zone facility and that The Hill may be outsourced.

Olvera argues that while the Cross-Cultural Center is part of the referendum title, it is never accounted for in the actual language of the referendum.

Many ASUCI members are hopeful that if the referendum is not passed, the Student Center will manage funds more effectively. Since the fee reduction is not due until Fall 2017, the Student Center/Cross-Cultural Referendum may be on the ballot again next spring if not passed this year.