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Cal Poly students could pay $4 more in fees next year to fund an organization most of them have probably never heard of.
But Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) student government leaders are hoping that won’t be the case.
The Student Involvement and Representation Fee (SIRF) was passed in January by the California State Student Association (CSSA), a group made up of voting representatives from all 23 CSUs who are “the recognized voice of the CSU system,” ASI President Joi Sullivan said.
“The CSSA writes resolutions, takes official stances on things, may look at bills going through the state assembly or state senate to take stances on those and what would be best for the system,” Sullivan said.
CSSA approved SIRF by an 18-5 majority vote, with Cal Poly, CSU San Jose, CSU Bakersfield, CSU Stanislaus and CSU East Bay all opposed. The CSU Board of Trustees will now vote at its November or January meeting on whether to pass the fee, Sullivan said.
“Regardless of which one it is,” Sullivan said, “I will be at the Board of Trustees meeting expressing Cal Poly’s opinion on the fee and how we believe it should not pass.”
SIRF, a $4 voluntary fee students could opt out of, would potentially triple CSSA’s budget, Sullivan said. Last year, CSSA received roughly half of its $656,000 budget from the Chancellor’s Office, and the other half from CSU membership dues.
“Their hope is that it will remove the Chancellor’s funding and then the CSU’s funding so that it’s a little more sustainable,” Sullivan said.
In an email to Mustang News, CSSA President Daniel Clark — a student at CSU Fresno — said SIRF would give CSSA “greater stability and independence” and ensure more students’ voices are heard.
“SIRF will modify CSSA’s funding model so that students are directly investing in their student association, rather than through ASIs and Chancellor’s Office funding,” Clark wrote.
Each CSU’s ASI governing body currently pays 67 cents per student to be a member of CSSA, usually with student fees, Sullivan said. Cal Poly’s ASI Board of Directors voted to withdraw its membership funding to CSSA in 2009, however, and the President’s Office has since paid for Cal Poly’s membership.
“The difference between Cal Poly and most of the system is that Cal Poly doesn’t use student fees to support CSSA,” Sullivan said. “A while back, we didn’t agree in the direction CSSA was going. This was a number of years ago, and the Board of Directors decided to pull our funding from CSSA.”
SIRF would essentially allow CSSA to receive $4 per student instead of the current 67 cents per student. This would eliminate the need for funding from the Chancellor’s Office, which is why Sullivan believes the Board of Trustees will vote to pass the fee.
“My guess is the Chancellor’s Office would want to have that extra $300,000 to fund elsewhere,” Sullivan said.
Former ASI President Jason Colombini voted against the fee in January, and Sullivan shares his position — but not because of the cost.
“It’s $4,” she said. “It’s not breaking the bank, I know that.”
The worrisome part for her and other ASI student government leaders is exactly how the money will be spent. When student representatives voted on SIRF in January, there was no concrete budget for the potential $1.8 million in funding, Sullivan said.
“Right now, CSSA is looking at ‘OK, when we get this money what are we going to do with it?’” Sullivan said. “To me, it seems a little bit backwards. There needed to be a lot more prep work beforehand.”
In his email, Clark cited various areas the SIRF would fund, such as student participation at trustee meetings, support for local campaigns such as voter registration drives, student attendance at meetings and hearings at the state capitol. But at the meeting in January, CSSA representatives were not given a “structured budget,” according to ASI Board of Directors Vice Chair and software engineering junior Myra Lukens, who attended the meeting with Colombini.
“That’s a lot of money coming in to CSSA, and when they proposed it, they did not have a structured budget outline or any clear or specific ideas of where they wanted that extra one point whatever million dollars to go,” Lukens said.
Lack of budget helped motivate Lukens and last year’s ASI Board of Directors to pass a resolution in opposition to SIRF, which she co-authored. A 7-year-old CSSA resolution that directly contradicts SIRF was another factor, she said.
“In 2007, CSSA passed a resolution in opposition of statewide university fee increases which said that CSSA is absolutely opposed to any fee increases,” Lukens said. “We felt that was directly conflicted with this fee increase, because this is a $4 increase.”
Both Sullivan and Lukens also believe CSU students should have been consulted about SIRF. Though Cal Poly suggested an amendment to the SIRF that would require each school to hold referenda to let students decide whether or not to pass the fee, it was not included, Lukens said.
“You have 23 students that are deciding that the entire system should pay to fund this organization, which is very much easily argued less than 1 percent of the system knows about,” Sullivan said. “I personally have a lot of issues with the fact there wasn’t more student opinion taking place when the Board of Directors for CSSA passed this fee.”
According to Lukens, if SIRF passes, Cal Poly would not be able to withdrawal its funding from CSSA as it did before.
Though students can individually opt out of SIRF, Cal Poly would still be required to offer the fee even if it wanted to withdrawal student funding from CSSA, Lukens said.
“We were thinking if for some reason Cal Poly or another school happens to disagree with CSSA, we don’t want our students to still have to be paying this $4 fee to CSSA,” Lukens said.
Opposing the fee, Lukens said, was mainly an “argument of principle.” She acknowledged the need for CSSA to receive sustainable funding, and the importance of the organization as a whole.
“They are one of the primary lobbying bodies on behalf of the CSU system,” Lukens said. “We definitely recognize the importance of having this organization, CSSA.”
Sullivan, who acts as Cal Poly’s current CSSA representative, sees potential in CSSA to become a “powerhouse,” she said.
“We have the largest state system in the entire country,” she said, “and if the organization had not only the funding but the drive and strategy, I think the way they could represent the largest system in the country would be phenomenal.”
But without referenda and a structured budget, Sullivan and the ASI Board of Directors remain opposed to SIRF.
“We still didn’t feel it was fair for them to pass this fee, (to) propose this fee before the budget came out,” Lukens said. “Because how do they know how much they actually needed?”