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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Non-binding ballot measure eliminating student fees that fund athletics programs to be placed on spring 2022 election ballot

ASUCD Senate discusses university policy about referenda for the athletics portion of student fees 

By KAYA DO-KHANH — campus@theaggie.org

On April 14, ASUCD Senate passed SB #68 and SB #69, which places a non-binding ballot measure on student fees for university athletic programs on the spring 2022 election ballot. When the elections begin on May 9, students will be able to vote on whether or not they want to continue paying $571.41 in annual fees that goes toward funding UC Davis Intercollegiate Athletics through the Student Activities and Services Initiative (SASI) Fee and the Campus Expansion Initiative Fee (CEI). 

Voting member of COSAF and fourth-year history major Calvin Wong has been pursuing the referenda since the summer of 2021. He said his involvement with the issue is primarily because of the context of the discontinuation of the university’s physical education (PE) program. 

In the 1990s, the SASI fee was put into place to help fund athletic programs, which came with the promise of an athletics program with multiple sports and other benefits such as a credit-bearing physical education program, according to a petition to save the UC Davis PE program in 2020. In winter 2021, the PE program was cut

Wong said that with the termination of the PE program and since the fees had not been voted on in 20 years, he wanted to have a revote by the student body. 

“[I] saw this connection between the SASI and CEI and our PE program and how because we no longer have the PE program, it’s really difficult to justify why we’re continuing to pay […] for athletic operating expenses that don’t benefit the 98% of students on this campus that are not student-athletes,” Wong said. 

With this referendum, Wong stated that his main goal is not to cut athletics funding but to re-establish the credit-bearing PE program, which would justify the fees. The ballot measure states that “Yes” vote “may also result in one or more of the following: student leaders may use an affirmative result to negotiate the return of the credit-bearing Physical Education program.”

“Fundamentally, why I started all of this was to give ASUCD a stronger negotiation ground to be able to bring back the PE program,” Wong said.

ASUCD President Ryan Manriquez stated that there are many fees that many students are not aware that they are paying, and with the SASI and CEI, he saw the inequities of students paying fees for things they might not have access to. 

“I certainly use myself as an easy example; as a student with a disability, I’m paying into athletic scholarships that I will never be able to access,” Manriquez said. “But it’s not just about that; it’s about [how] every other section of that fee is something that I can access, like the Coffee House [and] the Student Health and Counseling Services. There are other things that I am paying into within the fee that I can benefit from and I can access whenever I want, but for athletics, it’s not the same.” 

According to UC Davis Director of News and Media Relations Melissa Lutz Blouin, impacts of the elimination of athletic fees from SASI and CEI on athletic programs would include athletic program cuts, lower-level competition and layoffs and maintenance deferral on venues used by club sports and students such as the Hickey Gym, track and the beach volleyball courts. 

“Five student fees — including SASI and CEI — accounted for $24.9 million, or 66%, of total funding sources in 2020-21,” Blouin said via email. “This percentage of student institutional support is in keeping with other Football Championship Subdivision schools — at some of these schools, that percentage is included in tuition instead of fees.”

With the ASUCD leaders having worked on the referenda for a year and the students most familiar with the topic set to graduate this quarter, the leaders said they wanted the student body to vote on the referendum this spring. However, the university’s referendum policy does not allow for that as there was a section added to the campus’ Guide to Creating a Student Fee Initiative last summer, indicating that student fee initiatives could only be voted on in the fall. 

On March 31, ASUCD Senate passed SR #26, declaring the guide invalid, as UC Davis policy on Compulsory Campus-Based Student Fees and Referendum Elections states that “voting arrangements may be conducted by student governments according to agreed upon procedures” between ASUCD and the vice chancellor of Student Affairs, but ASUCD never agreed to the document, because it violates Article V of the ASUCD Constitution that states that at any time during the academic year, a referendum may occur through a special election. 

According to Manriquez, the fee referendum that was focused on an environmental sustainability grant was on the spring 2021 election ballot, and he put emphasis on the fact that it was seen in the spring. 

Chancellor Gary May told the Davis Enterprise that upon hearing the student government’s plans to place the referendum on the spring ballot despite it not passing the campus’ fee initiative guide, he could not promote the elections with a measure that did not comply with university policy. 

“UC Davis has supported the referendum process as it is laid out in policy and related guidelines, which have been followed by faculty, staff and students for years, even decades,” Blouin said via email. “We plan to work with current ASUCD leadership to review the guide, but that review process has not yet started. In the meantime, we will continue to follow the current university policy.”

Through the debate with campus administrators over election policies, ASUCD leaders have decided to place the item as a non-binding ballot measure, meaning that if it is passed, there will be no direct administrative action to eliminate the fees. Manriquez said he hopes that the ballot measure will spark conversation regarding the university’s spending of student fees and to generate student opinion on the issue. 

Wong expressed similar sentiments to Manriquez. 

“I think that it’s necessary to have these conversations about the university trying to exploit the student body’s ignorance, and that’s a lot of what I’m doing,” Wong said. “Indirectly, it’s like an educational initiative. I want to inform the student body about how student fees are being used and make sure that they understand everything that has happened.”

Written by: Kaya Do-Khanh — campus@theaggie.org


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