Life is enriched through diversity. So, too, is education. Our campus has 470 registered campus organizations through the Office of Student Life (OSL): from the Zen Sitting Group to the Unicycle Club, The Mark Twain Anti-Imperialist Forum to Students Stopping Rape, Mellow Moods to the Graduate Students Association, each of these groups embrace their differences.
But these groups also share a common threat: as registered campus student groups, their funding would be slashed by the soon-to-be-voted-upon draft of the UC fee policy. Not only would this policy affect groups registered through OSL, but Associated Students and groups under the student body government would be essentially strangled. This policy does two things that threaten student groups: It eliminates allocation of funding through specific student referendum for non-government groups and removes the ability of student government groups to act on issues not relating directly to higher education, such as the environment, social injustice and community improvement.
The fee policy would remove referendum – essentially a vote to allocate money – to fund specific groups. Instead, all these student groups would be forced to obtain money in the form of a reallocation from Associated Students. Translated, Associated Students would receive one large student fee, then each group would come before AS on bended knee and ask for money.
This creates two problems. The large groups now taken care of by their own lock-in fees would crowd out the smaller groups. The small groups would not receive enough funding and while we like to pretend otherwise, money is essential for running an organization. While this allocation system works well when large student groups are funded by their own lock-in fee, it breaks down when all groups must draw from the same source. Second, any increase in AS fees to compensate for this competition would not likely pass, as students are reluctant to simply vote for a fee hike without knowing who it is going to.
The second threat to student free speech, which limits student government to issues directly affecting higher education, comes into direct conflict with a 1999 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared that student government could use funds to work on all issues, including those with a political slant. For example, under the new draft policy, the campaign against Proposition 54 – which allowed state agencies to collect data on race and ethnicity – would have been completely illegal.
Under the proposed fee policy, any activity that lobbies for a particular proposal, proposition or candidate that does not directly relate to higher education is not allowable and therefore could not be funded through student lock-in fees. This, however, places unfair restrictions on these student government groups; their budget is not from the university, but from the students. Limiting the student representatives is removing the student voice.
So there you have it: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Be part of student government to affect change and they give you money but take away your chance to work on important issues. Or register as a student group through OSL and they give you a chance to make a difference but take away your money. Society always complains about student apathy, but should they be surprised by this “apathy” when before a group can take action they must use all their efforts to prevent legislature like the new fee policy?
The fee policy is a serious threat to student expression: It handcuffs and muffles the students, then spits on them for good measure. Whether you are a student group or a student, don’t roll over and play dead; go to www.UCFreeSpeech.com and shake some action.
Do it now or do it never: Once the university has student groups in a chokehold, it won’t be relinquished easily.
Alisha Dahlstrom is a sophomore environmental studies and pre-biology major.