Thank goodness it’s voting season.
The Green Initiative Fund will likely appear on this quarter’s ASUCD ballot, giving students the option of funding undergraduate sustainability programs.
Should the ballot measure pass in next month’s ASUCD elections, TGIF will net approximately $124,000 in grant money from student tuition fees. Each student will automatically contribute $4 to the fund every quarter, starting fall 2009.
“We have great research going on at UC Davis, but not many [undergraduate] students are involved in it,” said Lauren Jabusch, volunteer and media relations coordinator for TGIF and third year biotechnical engineer. “This is a way of taking the initiative.“
The funds will be controlled by a grant committee, which receives grant applications from students and votes on whether to award the grant. The committee will consist of four undergraduate students, one faculty member and two staff members. In addition, a part-time grant coordinator will oversee the foundation. Voting will take place twice a year.
The purpose of the measure is to encourage undergraduate students to promote sustainability on campus. The grant process will teach students to implement their ideas in a professional and organized manner. For a proposal to be accepted, at least one undergraduate student must have a role in the project.
“The grant application process alone will be great experience for anyone who plans on pursuing a career in sustainable living,” said Brian Seaby, a senior chemical engineer major and fundraising coordinator for TGIF. “The entire research process depends on this process. The program will really enhance students‘ peripheral skills.”
Similar programs have been initiated at UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara, although each school draws a different amount from students‘ tuition. UCSB, for example, takes $2.60 each quarter, which has contributed to a car sharing program designed to decrease road congestion.
In order for TGIF to be enacted, 20 percent of the student body – approximately 5,000 students – must vote in the Feb. 20 elections. Of that 20 percent, 60 percent plus one must vote ‘yes‘ for approval and commencement. Turnout appears to be one of the greatest challenges for the ballot measure, said Amanpreet Singh, ASUCD Environmental Policy and Planning Commission chair.
“Even national elections barely have a 20 percent voter turnout,” said Singh, a fourth year managerial economics and Middle East South Asia studies major. “For this program to succeed, students need to actually vote.“
However, TGIF coordinators are confident that this quarter’s election will bring more students to the polls, given the large amount of both presidential and senatorial candidates. They also feel that their grassroots-style campaign will appeal to the undergraduate population.
Another challenge to TGIF’s campaign is the $4 fee from students‘ tuition. Per UC policy, 25 percent of the funds will go towards financial aid, but many students may still shy away from the ballot measure in anticipation of a difficult financial year, said ASUCD Senator Andrew Bianchi.
“The most transparent problem is the fact that money is so sparse these days,” said Bianchi, a senior history and international relations major. “This is the most dangerous time for a fee to be on the ballot. Especially since there is going to be a larger number of unemployed students next year. It’s brazen to impose an additional fund.“
Bianchi added that the fund would be especially unfair since not a large majority of students will necessarily take advantage of the funds, unlike the initiative fund for Unitrans, which charges students one dollar every quarter.
In response, TGIF officials stated that the funds will ultimately benefit the whole community, as all the projects will be campus-based, designated to improve the environment with awareness and research.
“We’re taking responsibility for others‘ sustainability,” Jabusch said.
Many ASUCD officials raised the question of whether UC Davis needs a program such as this one when the university is already at the pinnacle of environmental research.
“There is an infinite number of ways for students to get involved with environmental research and policy,” said James Quinn, professor of environmental science and policy and co-director of the information center for the environment.
Quinn mentioned that UC Davis receives more environmental research funding than almost any other school in the country, and that there is no better way of starting a career in the environment than to simply research with a professor.
“Just in our department there are environmental studies clubs and student interest groups; not to mention a student can just walk right up to his or her professor and get help and funding on a project that interests them,” Quinn said. “There are plenty of options for saving the planet, and the more the better; however I wouldn’t be too concerned if [TGIF] didn’t pass.“
Bianchi feels that the system is inherently faulty because none of the grant committee members are student elected, and the initiative cannot be changed for another 10 years, should students approve it next month.
“The fact that the grant committee is student controlled but not student elected shows that there’s something wrong with the structure there,” Bianchi said. “It’s a great idea for sustainability on campus, but it’s not the right time, or the right structure.“
However members of TGIF disagree, saying that all committee meetings are open to the public, and that students should indeed have interest in the projects they are helping to fund.
“Every choice we made, we made it with the undergraduate students in mind,” Jabusch said. “We will make this the most transparent system we possibly can to ensure the best possible use of the grant money.“
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.