After five months of digging through what would eventually become a 2.5-inch-thick binder full of ballot language, fee allocations, and budget policy, one thing becomes clear: getting hold of public records is one thing, but making sense of it all is a whole other story.
On Feb. 22, Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Alma Sifuentes addressed UCSC’s Student Union Assembly to inform students of several concerns that have been raised on campus-based fees collected from summer session students.
“In Student Affairs — during summer session, there has been referenda money that has been identified and withdrawn and then allocated into areas that perhaps may not have been appropriate,” Sifuentes said. “ … We are actually collecting money from a referendum that was not authorized to be collected in that particular quarter [summer session].”
Students vote on measures, or referenda, to create campus-based fees to support campus programs and services. Although the ballot language of each measure specifies which programs the fee will go to, the rate the fee will be assessed at and when it will be charged, it was not applied in determining the 2007-2009 campus fee level and the distribution of those funds.
Setting the Fee Level
At UCSC, measure ballot language began including a charge for summer session students in 2003.
According to a section from the UC Office of the President (UCOP) November 2000 University of California Fee Policies Related to Expanded Summer Instruction document, “Each campus should determine whether services not now provided are needed during the summer. … If additional services or programs are necessary, the campus should calculate an appropriate prorated fee level to be charged during the summer term.”
Each campus-based fee is set by the language of its measure. However, the UCOP policy grants each campus the authority to determine the amount that will be charged for each fee in the summer.
UCSC administrators did not take into account ballot language when determining the fee level for the summer campus fee.
Free Moini, principal budget analyst for the Planning and Budget office at UCSC, said in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press, the ballot language is “difficult to interpret.”
“In many cases since the old [referenda] make no reference to summer and back then whenever anyone talked about the academic year, the meaning was fall/winter/spring,” Moini said in the e-mail. “Even the newer referenda that do mention summer may have been developed at times before the campus figured out how summer would operate.”
Victor Sanchez, external vice chair of SUA, said the university has taken advantage of the policy to the effect of misleading students and inappropriately distributing funds.
“It is in direct contradiction to the intention of the initial referenda, and it goes to show how the vagueness of a policy can be manipulated, and how that opportunity can be used in a manner that is just not justifiable,” he said.
Lack of student consultation is also a point of contention for many student leaders. Robert Singelton, chief of staff to the SUA chair, said that students were not consulted in this process.
“That is the biggest problem,” Singleton said. “We have a student fee advisory committee (SFAC) for just this purpose — it’s not like there aren’t students who could have been consulted, [campus administration] just chose not to. Finding out the intent of the choice not to consult students is really what I’m interested in.”
While in previous years there was a summer fee to support OPERS, transportation, the libraries and computer labs, 2007 was the first year UCSC began assessing campus-based fees.
The amount of campus-based fees that will be charged to summer session students must be set and published on the summer session website before students begin enrolling. When the deadline came to set the fee level for 2007, there was no time to review and establish a process so it was set at an increased rate of $150.
“No decision had been made by the time the summer 2007 fee level needed to be published, so the vice provost [Ladusaw] who oversees summer session set the level at $150,” Sifuentes said.
In 2008 the campus adopted a new model for assessing fees. William Ladusaw, vice provost for undergraduate education, oversees summer session for the campus, and works with the Planning and Budget office to determine what the fee structure should be.
In an e-mail, Ladusaw explained that the new fee structure was designed to keep summer session more affordable by assessing a fee that is lower than other quarters while still being able to collect revenue for the campus.
The new process was to assess students the full transit fee in addition to half the cost of the other campus-based fee. From undergraduates in 2008 this brought in a total of $738,504. Of this total, $24,177 went to return-to-aid, a UCOP policy which requires at least 25 percent of all new fees or increases to existing fees after 2006 to go to need-based financial aid, as required by UCOP policy. The remaining $679,463 went to measure funding accounts.
Distribution of funds
Once the fees are all collected, the next step is to distribute the funds to the appropriate measures. According to Sifuentes, in 2007 the $150 campus fee was distributed with $82.50 to the transit fee, $30 for OPERS, and the rest split — minus return-to-aid — within Student Affairs between Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR) and Judicial Affairs.
In the Judicial Affairs budget for 2008 there is an entry, an adjustment in fiscal terms, for $13,353 from Measure 7 funds. Measure 7 is a $51 per quarter fee that supports a wide range of student programs and services within Student Affairs.
The ballot language of the fee states that “the funds generated by the fee will fall under the purview of the student fee advisory committee.” However, according to students on the SFAC, the committee was not consulted in the decision to allocate funds to Judicial Affairs. The unit had not previously received funding from any campus-based fee and had not been included in the ballot language of Measure 7.
The allocation of funds to Judicial Affairs is highly concerning to some SUA students.
“Frankly, I don’t know how that’s not illegal — Judicial Affairs just randomly got that money one year, basically at the expense of students not knowing what is going on,” Singelton said.
Victor Sanchez of SUA said that with steep budget cuts pulling funding away from student programs, it is important that all funds brought in by campus-based fees go where students have specified they go through voting on measures.
“It is not justifiable for us to see that money go to [Judicial Affairs]. We have resource centers being cut, our programs are being cut, outreach programs are being cut — there is a need for [campus-based fees] to go where they are intended to go,” Sanchez said.
In 2008, funds were distributed to non-Student Affairs units. According to documents released by information practices $304,274 went to transportation, $3,847 to renewable energy, $3,419 to theater arts, and $320 to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.
The remaining funds, $367,603, were given to Student Affairs as a lump sum for distribution.
“When allocating the proceeds, Student Affairs has discretion (within some limitations) to direct more or less to individual fees [rather] than using the straight 50 percent formula. The 50 percent figure is just how we come up with the total amount students will pay,” Moini said in an e-mail.
The responsibility of distribution decisions fell to Sue Matthews, acting assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs Business and Administration, and AVC Sifuentes, with final approval from Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Felicia McGinty.
“Whether you’re a student during the summer or the regular year, you’re a student,” Sanchez said. “For that money to be lumped into one pot and then distributed at the discretion of someone who is not a student is not the way we should be moving.”
This is complicated through the fact that some of the measures that received no funding had been voted upon by students to be paid for in the summer, while other measures that received funds were not.
“I think it is an irresponsible mismanagement of funds,” said SUA Chair Kalwis Lo. “Students decided how they want referendum money to be spent, and if it’s not spent the way students have intended for it to be spent then I think that it’s illegal. And it is something that I definitely do not support.”
Programs whose measures recieved summer funding were SUA, College Student Governments, Engaging Education, and the Campus Sustainability Program.
Measure 7, the student programs fee, received a higher allocation of funds than any of the other measures, collecting extra funding through the fact that some other measures received none of the collected funds. The student fee advisory committee was not consulted in the distribution of the $147,406 allocated to the measure.
At the discretion of Sifuentes, Matthews and McGinty, $11,735 went to SOAR, $73,264 to address deficits in the Student Affairs divisional collection center, and $62,406 to offset a deficit in the Student Affairs employee benefits pool. The collection center funds are used to support merit increases and other salary increases.
Amanda Buchanan, Oakes representative on the student fee advisory committee (SFAC) first heard about the summer fee process while attending the SUA meeting at which Sifuentes initially presented the issue. Buchanan was concerned that the SFAC had not been informed about these fee allocations.
She said the university is responsible for consulting students on financial decisions regarding student fees.
“It’s outrageous when huge decisions like this are made by administrators,” she said. “It baffles me that they think they are above the students.”
Sifuentes said continuity issues resulting from changes in staff, paired with a misunderstanding of the fees, led to the problems with collecting and allocating the fees.
“There was a lot of turnover in the division [Student Affairs], and I think that Planning and Budget saw the money as being green, not necessarily student money or other money, and people jumped on making decisions,” Sifuentes said.
In 2007-2008, at the height of a transitional period among staff that saw Elise Herrera-Mahoney replaced by Matthews, McGinty was commissioned to take over for interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jean-Marie Scott.
Sifuentes has asked for SUA and SFAC students to begin working with Student Affairs to review issues regarding the summer campus fees.
Kalwis Lo of SUA said that in rectifying the budget problems, those units should receive funds that were instead distributed to other areas.
Many units did not receive summer funds. These included resource centers, Student Media, Learning Support Services and OPERS, which are supported by measures whose ballot language states that the fees will be assessed to summer students.
“I think the money these units have lost should be recovered somehow, and I would support giving them the full amount back,” Lo said. “Our campus did not have any intentions of this happening, but the fact is it happened, and we need to address it appropriately.”
Sanchez said that steps should also be taken on a systemwide level to eliminate vagueness in student fee policies that may lead to questionable fee allocations.
“Ultimately this is a new chapter in this struggle for accountability and transparency,” Sanchez said. “We can keep saying this, but something needs to be done.”