You’ve probably heard a lot about campus elections next week. Usually, when this time of the year rolls around, I make a snap decision and move on with my life. However, now that I’m leaving the university behind, I want to implore the rest of you to take few minutes to think things through. One day, you’ll be staring down graduation, and trust me, you’ll want to leave believing that your school is in good shape.
For the time being, I’m going to leave specific candidates and political parties out of the discussion. When you’re voting for a person, there are lots of intangible considerations that come into play (how much you trust that person, how well you think you know that person, etc.). Fee initiatives, on the other hand, fit pretty well into a formula. There are three considerations that matter, and before you vote this year, I suggest you run them through your head a few times.
1. Is this reasonably priced? This is a question crucial to voting for or against lock-in fees at UCSB, but also at the level of federal legislation. It’s important and too often neglected. Think about it this way: Suppose there came an initiative to renovate all the bathrooms on campus. If the question were only, “Are you in favor of this, or do you oppose it?” I think we would all say we favor it. Who doesn’t want nicer bathrooms? But suppose now that the project were to double your quarterly tuition next year. Well, obviously our minds would change pretty quickly. The benefit is no longer worth the cost. Obviously that’s an extreme case, but you get the idea. Price matters, so if an initiative costs $10, it should be given a lot more scrutiny than one that costs $1.25.
2. Is this important to someone? Obviously, if the initiative is important to you, then none of the factors discussed here will sway your decision much; you’re going to vote “yes.” However, that an initiative is not particularly important to you doesn’t mean you should automatically vote “no.” Think about whether a given lock-in fee is important to anyone. For example, this year, one of the lock-in fees up for vote is $1.08 to support The Catalyst, a new magazine on campus for student literature and art. Let’s say this is not your thing; you know that you’ll never read it, and it doesn’t really matter to you whether or not it exists on campus. On that alone you might vote to keep your dollar, but you shouldn’t vote on that alone. Obviously, there are a good number of students who really care about the existence of the magazine, and by sacrificing your dollar, you can do a lot of good for all of them. Who among us wouldn’t give up the dollar? Does a dollar make a big enough difference to you to deprive them of something they care about (assuming they are not your enemies)? You could also think about examples that won’t really come up this year: A program for paraplegic students wouldn’t really make any difference in my life, but if I could pay a few dollars to make a huge difference in the life of someone who is paralyzed, I would happily do it.
3. Will this negatively influence me? The above cases refer to negligible costs and benign causes … in other words, the best candidates for a “yes” vote. Some cases, however, could be reasonably priced (or expensive but deemed to be worth the cost) and important to someone, but actually bear negatively on your life day-to-day. In these cases, I don’t think it’s selfish to vote “no.” Consider the following hypothetical initiative: A student group wants to pay UCSB the extra cost for a switch to more expensive toilet paper as a protest of working conditions in the factories of our current supplier. The group is so committed to the workers’ rights cause (and, let’s say, you’re not quite as committed) that they are happy to pay more for this new toilet paper, even though it is scratchy and has been known to cause bleeding. In this case, we might be able to check the first two boxes for a “yes” vote. It’s obviously important to someone, and we can imagine that the lock-in fee would not be too detrimental. Still, our intuitions say that we should vote “no.” Most of us use bathrooms on campus, and all of us would like to be able to do so without bleeding.
Again, these principles will need to be used in concert. Real cases won’t always be as clear-cut as I’ve made them here. The point is this: Think carefully about your voting, if only for those of us who don’t get to vote again.
Ben Moss is feeling the burden of nostalgia already.