The UCSB chapter of the California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) concluded its fall pledge drive with close to 1,000 student signatures, bringing the total number of students who have agreed to give $5 a quarter to the student group to over 5,000.
Because of a 1994 agreement with the regents, CalPIRG, a student-run public advocacy group, needs to get at least 15 percent of the students on campus to pledge for the group to stay on campus. The organization has chapters at seven UC campuses and usually devotes itself to environmental activism.
The pledge drive comes at a time when the University of California is looking to change the way student fees are collected, in accordance with a Supreme Court case from last year.
In March 2000, the court looked at the argument of several University of Wisconsin students that mandatory student fees, when given to advocacy groups, were unconstitutional. In Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, the court ruled that, although the First Amendment permits a public university to impose mandatory activity fees, those fees must go to groups that are “viewpoint neutral.”
CalPIRG is hoping to benefit from the decision by getting funding from the UC for the first time in its history, something they have had problems with in the past.
In 1990, the regents voted to disallow CalPIRG’s fee, which students were permitted to waive at their discretion. The fee automatically appeared on a student’s BARC account statement and students who did not want to pay the fee had to check off a box. Because this option only applied to the CalPIRG fee, it was the only one to be affected by the regents’ decision.
The regents said they were concerned that students were paying the fee without knowing it.
CalPIRG organizers claim that the regents decided to cut CalPIRG’s funding as a political move. In the late 1980s, CalPIRG promoted a statewide initiative to stop the use of certain kinds of pesticides. This upset many large organizations and business owners, and the UC Board of Regents took action to eliminate the group’s funding, CalPIRG Campus Organizer Megan Jennings said.
“Instead of dealing with the problem, the regents got rid of CalPIRG,” Jennings said. “We were without funding for one year.”
In 1991, CalPIRG began its pledge drive for funding. The drive, which takes place quarterly, involves members of CalPIRG asking students to donate $5 to be taken from their BARC account every quarter that they attend UCSB. This quarterly donation automatically continues until students either leave UCSB or request that it stop.
“A huge effort was put out by our members this quarter,” Jennings said. “The drive required a lot of volunteers and it proved very successful.”
Despite the success of their drive, CalPIRG members are waiting for the UC Office of the President to release new guidelines on student funding that will be in accordance with the Southworth case.
“The University is currently in conversation with the University of California Student Association,” UC spokesperson Charles McFadden said. “We’re hopeful that a satisfactory agreement on how to handle student funding will be reached by early next year.”