Two years ago, UC Davis students voted to increase their student fees to bolster Unitrans service. Next week, they will decide if they should do so again to establish a “Green Initiative Fund.”
If approved, The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) would increase student fees by $4 per quarter. After administration costs and return-to-aid, the fund would net about $200,000 annually.
The fund would be used to distribute grants to undergraduates for capital projects and educational campaigns promoting sustainability. In addition, by UC policy, one quarter of the fee increase will support financial aid.
The referendum, which requires a 20 percent voter turnout to be valid, is polarizing students. Backers of TGIF argue the fund would allow students to develop their own sustainable projects and promote environmental responsibility on campus. Critics of TGIF say the initiative is poorly designed and similar funds at other UCs have been ineffective.
The controversy surrounding the measure came to a head when backers of TGIF refused to sign a voluntary campaign spending limit agreement of $250. Since the measure requires a 20 percent voter turnout – well above that of a typical ASUCD election – and at least 60 percent approval, setting expenditure limits would cripple the campaign, supporters of TGIF say.
Voter turnout for ASUCD elections is typically well below the 20 percent threshold. For example, in last winter’s ASUCD elections, the voter turnout was 13 percent.
“In most ASUCD elections, around 13 percent of people vote so we felt that $250 simply wouldn’t be enough to adequately advertise the measure. For perspective, [ASUCD] Senate candidates are also held to $250 and they usually net around 500 votes on a strong election,” said Joseph Chatham, TGIF campaign manager and ASUCD presidential candidate.
By refusing to agree to voluntary spending limits, the No on TGIF campaign has argued that, according to ASUCD bylaws, the Yes campaign is ineligible to participate in any debate sponsored by the ASUCD Elections Committee today.
However, student affairs requires that at least two public forums are held for any fee referendum. The forums do not have to be sponsored by the ASUCD Elections Committee, said Janet Gong, associate vice chancellor of student affairs.
“It’s conceivable that one of these forums could be integrated into an existing ASUCD presentation, but we don’t require this … and don’t think it appropriate for student affairs to interpret or influence ASUCD policies,” Gong said in an e-mail interview.
Paul Harms, ASUCD controller and opponent of TGIF, said the No campaign is amenable to a privately funded debate, but maintains that spending limits are important to ensuring a fair election.
“Philosophically, we believe in keeping the electoral process open to all students. Spending limits are important in making elections accessible to all students, not just those who can afford to spend over $250 to win a senate seat or pass a petition-initiated fee,” Harms said in an e-mail interview.
If established, TGIF would be governed by a committee of seven people, including four undergraduate students, a faculty member, a staff member from student affairs, and the assistant vice chancellor of the Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, according to the TGIF campaign’s web site.
The No on TGIF campaign argues that the board would have too much influence from the administration. Furthermore, similar green funds at other UCs have shown a lack of student interest, opponents say.
TGIF supporters say the fund would allow undergraduate students to lead projects that would not only be environmentally friendly, but save the university money, such as solar panels or water-efficient urinals. After weighing the benefits, the fund is worth the fee increase, Chatham said.
“It’s a small sacrifice, but I feel like most people can forego a couple coffees or a pint once per quarter to give our students the educational opportunities TGIF offers,” Chatham said.
TGIF opponents counter that undergraduate students are not responsible for subsidizing university capital projects.
“It makes no sense to me why a dedicated undergraduate fee should be used to fund capital projects for campus departments when those capital projects will pay for themselves,” Harms said.
The winter 2009 ASUCD Election commences Feb. 18 at 8 a.m. Students can vote online at elections.ucdavis.edu until 8 a.m. Feb. 20.
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at email@example.com.XXX