Guest: Time to play hardball with student fees

MACLEAN HARTFORD / AGGIE FILE

After passing a fee initiative, who keeps the university compliant and accountable?

The Aggie’s recent story “Administrators overrule student advisory council’s 2017 vote to reject increase in student fees” raised a number of important questions. When students pass a fee initiative and begin paying to support something or solve a problem, what exactly are they entitled to expect in return? Once the Regents approve it, what does the phrase “Advisory to the Chancellor” even mean? Is the designated oversight committee for real or just for show? What sorts of liberties can the Chancellor take with those initiative fees or, just as importantly, the terms and conditions embodied in that initiative? Is anyone tracking and reporting on the university’s compliance? Where are the checks and balances in this system? Where is the accountability?

Sadly, all these roll up into a single, very troubling question: Is this a case of “Shut up and pay”?

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, until relatively recently, such questions were not even imaginable. That’s why the Student Activities and Services Initiative, Facilities and Campus Enhancement initiative and Campus Expansion Initiative, which were based in trust, simply reflect the students’ intent. But then came Linda Katehi and all that changed.

You may remember Linda Katehi. While serving as chancellor from 2009-16, Katehi managed to rack up a stunning string of successes. Examples include the internationally-famous pepper spray episode; sidelining, crushing or running off any employee who did not readily subscribe to her definition of “excellence”; hiring an army of new deputies at top-tier salaries to replace them; engaging consultants to enhance her own image on the internet; moonlighting on outside for-profit boards both with and without the UC Office of the President’s permission; and convincing almost nobody she was telling the truth about any of it — including, ultimately, UC President Janet Napolitano and the Regents. In essence, she was our very own Betsy DeVos.

But before any of that, in her very first year (2009-10) she managed to breach the CEI (the passage of which in 2002-03 was a pre-condition to the university’s reclassification to NCAA Division I) when she cut four intercollegiate sports. Her decision, which would later be exposed to have been made on false grounds, no less, directly harmed nearly 150 amazing Aggie student-athletes. Blaming it on irrelevant state budget cuts, the maneuver was apparently part of an opaque but deliberate strategy to concentrate more resources on the high profile sports of football and men’s basketball (a further violation of the CEI) and at the same time shift more of the funding burden to the students (a violation of the SASI). Moreover, it involved the confirmed misuse of $3 million in student fees — which would still be going on today if not for complaints raised by outside parties. But I digress.

The point is, don’t think she didn’t listen to the students. She sure did. She listened to the unanimous objections of ASUCD elected leadership. She listened to those who demonstrated on campus. She listened to their speeches at rallies and town halls and even in the testimony they gave at a state senate select committee hearing in Sacramento. And then she did just exactly what she set out to do. Apart from the shambles she made of the trust and respect students deserve to enjoy in their university, from that moment on they would be paying 100 percent of the fees for only 85 percent of the intercollegiate athletics program they had a right to expect.

So it should have come as no surprise that Ralph Hexter, hired as he was by Katehi herself back in the day and acting in his capacity as Interim Chancellor, would see fit to overrule the COSAF in 2017 and impose a CPI increase on the students. It remains a big disappointment, however, that even Chancellor May seems to be willing to protect the unworthy and defend the indefensible. He even passed up a great opportunity last month to reinstate women’s rowing as part of trying to get the university back into Title IX compliance (yet another violation of the CEI, by the way). Presumably he and others just couldn’t bring themselves to take even that small step toward acknowledging the misdeeds and debts from the past. The doctrine of “Chancellor Infallibility” lives on.

There’s more, lots more. But what to do about it? If students want the university to play fair with their initiatives once again, then it’s time for some hard ball. Contact your state legislator, share your concerns and ask her or him to ask the State Auditor to investigate how student fees and fee initiatives have been administered on campus over the past 10 years.  Only when the abuses of the past have been exposed and lessons have been learned can trust and respect be restored to the entire picture of student fee initiatives at UC Davis.

Paul Medved graduated from UC Davis in 1978 with a B.S. in civil engineering. He has worked in transportation engineering in the Bay Area and Asia for nearly 40 years, now serving as the project manager of the BART Warm Springs Extension project.

 

 

Written by: Paul Medved

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