Director of Student Media laid off, organization loses independence.
July 20 marks the end of UC Santa Cruz Student Media as recent memory knows it.
Marlene Olson, Director of Student Media and a UCSC media adviser of 20 years, was laid off June 16 by Associate Vice Chancellor/Dean of Students, Alma Sifuentes. Sifuentes oversees the Office of Student Life, which includes Student Media.
The given reasoning behind Olson’s layoff was budgetary necessity. Olson said she was blind-sided by her lay-off and is confused about its logic even in the harsh fiscal climate confronting the university.
“The budget cuts are tremendous,” Olson said. “However, this is not a budget move because my salary is Measure 7.”
Olson was referring to the over 80 percent of her salary that comes from student referendum Measure 7, a campus fee created and passed by students in 2003 that supports a broad spectrum of campus organizations. According to the 2008-2009 UCSC Per Capita Report, $72,600 of Measure 7 goes towards the operating budgets for the offices of the Vice Chancellor and the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.
Olson’s shock over her unexpected lay-off was amplified by the revelation that the money originally designated for her salary is now going towards the incorporation of Student Media with Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR), effectively ending its organizational independence.
Neither Sifuentes, who returns to work on Monday after six weeks of medical leave, nor her stand-in, Sue Matthews, were available for comment. Lucy Rojas, Special Project Manager for Student Affairs, spoke with City on a Hill Press about Olson’s lay-off and the realignment.
“The [Measure 7] money is not going away,” Rojas said in response to student concerns that the redirection of Olson’s salary is equivalent to a cut of measure money. “That money is staying with the organization. As of today there have been no cuts to Measure 7.”
From her perspective, Olson has seen alternating periods of budget plenty and want, but she noted that the tactics recently adopted by the administration to deal with the university’s fiscal crisis are out of the ordinary.
“I know of no other redistribution periods of time with Measure 7,” she said. “Certainly there is a precedent of budget cuts that effect these decisions. I suspect what has happened is that as Student Affairs cuts those permanent budgets — the registration fees and state funds — they’re trying to shore up those positions that they prioritize with the redistribution of Measure 7.”
In the language of Measure 7, the Student Fee Advisory Committee (SFAC), a student-appointee advising committee that makes recommendations to top-level administrators regarding funding allocations, technically has “purview”- a term meaning a range of authority- regarding how the measure money is allocated. However, Rojas did say that it is also the only measure over which the administration can make spending decisions.
Furthermore, Matthew Payne, Chair of SFAC, said that the committee only makes recommendations regarding new money coming from registration and campus fees.
“As of right now, we’ve been working only on the margin of the increase in moneys,” Payne said. “When there’s new students coming in and it’s a good year, and we have an increase in the amount of money in the registration fee and the Measure 7, then we look at that or we say where to allocate that. We don’t do any reallocations. It’s just not within our scope.”
As far as the decision to lay-off Olson and realign Student Media with SOAR, SFAC was not consulted for a recommendation.
Given the various budget struggles that have become a norm this year, it was not deemed necessary to consult SFAC on the reassignment of Measure 7 money from Olson’s salary to the realignment efforts. Payne has noticed a drop off in administrators seeking SFAC recommendations pertaining to university budget decisions. He attributes this practice to the lack of faith the administrators have in students to think of what will be best for the campus in the long term.
Rojas confirmed that SFAC was not consulted on the reassignment of Measure 7 money.
“Student Media is staying intact so there weren’t any changes to be consulted,” she said.
As far as the absorption of Student Media by SOAR, no specifics of how that relationship will look have been outlined.
“At this point, it’s going to be an integrated process with students involved, and from my perspective, a new advisor role will be created,” Rojas said.
How the creation of a new position replacing Olson’s will save money remains unclear.
Olson said that a reorganization of Student Media with SOAR has happened in the past, in addition to onerous decisions regarding Student Media’s budget, but the various organizations involved were always given a say in how the reorganization and cuts would look.
“As far as Measure 7 goes, all measures are voted on and approved by students, and then they are assigned to a unit and that unit is where the funds roll up,” she said. “I think students, given the information and the time, are capable of very smart decisions about budgets and how to spend them.”
To see Measure 7, the 2008-2009 Per Capita Report and the Student Fee Advisory Committee (SFAC)’s Charge, follow these links: