Alec Weisman's

Lies, Damned Lies, and Higher Education

In Higher Education on February 26, 2012 at 12:15 am

How Entrenched Interests at UCSD Distort the Facts to Raise Student Fees
Alec Weisman

Washington DC – Two new ballot initiatives at the University of California, San Diego are in the works that if passed would raise student fees by $534 per year, an increase of more than 150 percent. The high stakes of these two referenda have prompted entrenched interests at UC San Diego to spread misinformation, half-truths, and factual distortions in an attempt to pass their fee hikes.

The most contentious of these referenda, the Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) Student Activity Fee Referendum, seeks to move UCSD from NCAA Division II to Division I. To do so, UCSD needs to increase the athletics budget by $13 million to be competitive, according to a $28,000 UCSD Feasibility Study commissioned by former Associated Students (AS) President Utsav Gupta and Vice Chancellor Student Affairs Penny Rue. The study was carried out by consulting firm Athletics Staffing & Consultants and released in March 2011. This referendum requires undergraduate students to pay an additional $165 per quarter, which will generate around $11 million for the athletics annual budget if enrollment remains the same. The fee would go into effect as soon as UCSD is accepted into the Big West conference, which must happen by September 30, 2014 or else the results of this referendum would be nullified. The vote will be held on Tritonlink from Monday, February 27 and continue until Friday, March 9.

UCSD moved to Division II in 2001, however, its top sports, fencing, men’s volleyball, and water polo, already compete at Division I. After less than three years at Division II public debate had already begun to ask if UCSD should join Division I, although prior to 2007 UCSD did not even offer athletic scholarships. These scholarships are estimated to compose about a third of the ICA operating budget if the referendum is approved.

The distortions begin with the “Pro Statement” on the referendum itself. It reads, “The Division I and Student Scholarships Referendum will raise nearly $8,000,000 per year in scholarships, $3,000,000 of which will go to student grants and aid, not just to athletes.” However, only about $6 million will actually be raised from this new referendum, while the remaining $2 million comes from the $119.78 per quarter ICA Student Activity Fee that students already pay.

Some advocates of this referendum have also been engaged in secretive lobbying efforts. These have prompted a public outcry. First, a private Facebook message urging an AS member to keep the publicity about the referendum on the “dl” was leaked to the public on February 1.  In addition, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Penny Rue, has asked UCSD staff and departments to remain neutral on this referendum. She did this after a program assistant for the UCSD Recreation Services sent out a negative email urging students to get informed and vote on the referendum, prompting the director of the Recreation Department to issue an embarrassed apology for the email and vowing to ensure his department would remain neutral on the issue.

Nevertheless, the Triton Athletes’ Council is campaigning on behalf of the referendum and working to build its voter lists under the radar. Supporters claim that moving to Division I is of utmost importance. To make their point, they emphasize that moving to DI will help boost UCSD’s name recognition, prompt an increase in school spirit, and generate other  “positive social effects.” These ambiguous and unquantifiable allegations are often tied to the assumption that moving to DI is inevitable and a critical investment in the university.

Yet,  as proponents of the referendum push for the jump to Division  I, several DI UC schools (UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UC Irvine) have cut some sports entirely, while others (UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside) are reducing funding to their athletics departments. UCSD has seen more than a quarter of its state funding disappear between 2010 and 2012, and the state of California is considering borrowing as much as $200 million from the UC and CSU systems in March because of their high credit ratings. The state currently owes the UC system $1.7 billion from past borrowing.

Opponents of the referendum have also fought to make their voices heard, explaining that the benefits from joining DI are exaggerated. According to a 2007 NCAA-commissioned study, every university that moved from DII to DI between 1993 and 2003 suffered multimillion-dollar losses. Only 19 of 119 Division 1 schools in the country were profitable in 2006, while the other schools had negative median revenue of $8.9 million. In addition, the only D1 programs that generated any profit were men’s basketball and football. It should be noted that three of the top five highest paid state employees are coaches at UCLA and Berkeley.

As noted by the opponents of the referendum, the funding plan for moving to D1 assumes that UCSD will generate around half a million dollars ($550,000) per year from increased ticket sales, donations, and sponsorships. Yet if this goal is not met, the burden will likely be placed on students that will already be paying $3,417 over four years. UCSD students currently pay 95 percent of the athletic budget from student fees, which cover $6.9 million out of the annual $7.3 million athletic budget. This far exceeds average schools in the Big West Conference, in which students typically only support around 35 percent of the athletic budget.

Even more alarming, rather than help share the burden of DI with their students, the university appears content to allow undergraduates to raise their own fees to support athletics.  Currently, the UCSD Health System is sponsoring the San Diego Chargers for more than $300,000 per year. This hospital giant made more than $900 million in 2011, with almost $150 million as profit. This year alone, UCSD Health System paid its associate vice chancellor a $600,000 salary and purchased the bankrupt Nevada Cancer Institute for $18 million.

Another referendum seeking to go to a vote this year would increase the University Center’s Advisory Board’s (UCAB) University Center’s (UCEN) Fee by an additional $39 per year, which would bring the total UCEN fee to $268 per year. According to Mac Zilber, AS voted to decline this referendum, although the Guardian says otherwise. AS is set to decide whether to approve the referendum on February 29. According to the Student Life Business Office, the University Centers (which includes Price Center, the Old Student Center, and the Che Café) has been in debt since the 2010-2011 academic year. Students rejected this ballot referendum last year when UCEN asked for a $15 per year fee. However, the half-truths have already begun to flow from supporters of this referendum.

According to notes from a meeting on February 22 between the AS Representative to UCAB Jeremy Akiyama and the Interim Director of University Centers, Sharon Van Bruggen, UCEN is considering possible actions to respond to decreasing revenues and increasing costs. Some of these threats, such as removing 24-hour access to Price Center, closing several stores, and reducing the availability of student org offices amount to a breach of contract. However, these amenities, among others, were guaranteed within the 2003 Price Center expansion referendum, thus UCEN cannot threaten to remove them just to pass a referendum.

The UCSD Associated Students is very inconsistent with deciding what referenda should be a priority. In the past six years, AS has seriously considered at least nine referenda. Of those, five have gone to a vote and four have passed. Once a referendum becomes voted in, the fees essentially become locked in forever. Last year the AS President Alyssa Wing killed a proposed referendum of $8 per quarter that could have stopped the Center for Library and Instructional Computing Services (CLICS) from closing, recognized that it was dangerous to expand student fees to cover the library. According to Mac Zilber, the AS never received a tangible referendum to consider despite claims by the Guardian to the contrary. An update from the Chair of the Muir College Council affirms that a referendum had been proposed to AS but never acted upon. Students eventually reclaimed and reopened the library in December with the tacit support of administrators, who had decided not to further antagonize students.

Yet the AS pushed for and passed the $21 per year Promoting Understanding and Learning through Service and Education (PULSE) Referendum in 2007, which established the Student Promoted Access Center for Education and Service (SPACES), Academic Success Program (ASP), and Student Initiated Outreach and Recruitment Commission (SIORC). SPACES has used this money to promote a radical agenda through their publication, the Collective Voice. Not only is the Collective Voice exempt from issuing a disclaimer in its issues because it is not a “registered media organization,” but the two editors of the Collective Voice are paid $3,500 per year from student fees, which violates UCSD AS funding policies.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization that defends “individual rights at America’s colleges and universities,”  advocates against all referenda that violate viewpoint neutrality (such as SPACES) and force students to fund “groups that advocate ideas they find morally or politically unacceptable.”

Adam Kissel, the Vice President of Programs for FIRE elaborated on referenda like PULSE. “UCSD cannot base allocation decisions about mandatory student activity fees upon the outcomes of student referenda, even when they are merely advisory. This is viewpoint discrimination that crowds out minority views.” He noted that the Supreme Court ruled in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth (2000) that public universities cannot force students to fund specific organizations even if they win a referendum. Nevertheless, referenda remain an attractive tool of the UCSD Associated Students to promote their cause du jour.

As students prepare to vote on these referenda they should consider if the Associated Students even has the moral authority to impose fees on UCSD students at all. By voting in favor of these fees, students give the AS the legitimacy to ask for more money. By voting in favor of these fees, students give the administration the incentive to promote entrenched interests by any means necessary. It is time to stand up and protect your liberty. Enough is enough. Now is not the time for more referenda.

      1. Update 2/26/12 @ 11 pm: Although Alyssa Wing urged AS to remain


      , that obviously did not apply to her, as she recently formed the Yes on D1 Facebook event.


Below is the excel spreadsheet of calculations.
UCSD Student Fees Math

  1. Nice work. I appreciate that you included a spreadsheet to explain where your numbers come from.

    I do not know very much about the funding intricacies behind SPACES, but I would like to point out that the links provided do not support the claim that the Collective Voice pushes a radical agenda. One link connects to an article accusing the Voice of being “wannabe-Marxist” without any references, but that article was written by you. Another link, supposedly supporting that claim, connects to a facsimile of this very article.

    I’d say the closest thing to ‘radicalism’ is point 4 in the Voice’s ten point platform: “We want to unite student activists and students with progressive values and common struggles.” [1] On the other hand, this is quite in line with SPACES mission “to act as an empowering dynamic on campus where UCSD students collaborate to achieve greater educational equity.” [2]

    The only political words I see are ‘progressive’ and ‘equity.’ Progressivism, in broad terms, is the notion that it is possible to improve the current state of affairs. (Substantive) equity is the notion that ‘accidents of birth’ (such as being born Black in a discriminatory society [3]) ought not to decide one’s life chances.

    While these concepts are by no means politically neutral, I think the argument remains to be made whether they constitute ‘radicalism,’ even in the wannabe- or Groucho-Marxist sense.


  2. […] [A well defended libertarian opposition to the referendum is available here] […]

  3. Hi Alec,

    The 34% scholarships will be of the total budget, not of the increase; about 60% of the $117 increase ICA gets goes to athletic scholarships. This is because the tentative breakdown is what percentage scholarships will be of the future ICA budget. No more than 3% of the current ICA budget goes to scholarships (you can do the math yourself: the maximum DII scholarship is $500, and there are no more than 500 scholarship athletes at UCSD), and over 60% of the increase will go to scholarships, which is how you end up with the 34% or whatever it is. I would appreciate it if you were to write a correction on this.

    I still don’t quite get how the “multi-million dollar losses” argument is relevant. Of course expenses will exceed revenue by millions of dollars: that’s what the fee pays for.

    The notion that A.S., or Alyssa in particular, killed a CLICS referendum has been a scurrilous untruth that won’t die. I don’t blame you for articulating it, I just blame the uninformed people who have led to its recent spread who never asked anybody for facts. No such referendum ever came before us; a college council member brought it up literally in a casual conversation during one meeting, the Guardian reported on it, and then he never actually tried to write any legislation or try to write a CLICS referendum, and not even an inkling of such a referendum ever came in front of us. It’s not our fault if the Guardian has bad journalistic practices, which I’m sure you know as well as I do. I would appreciate if you would also run a correction on this.

    The A.S. unanimously voted “no” on the UCen Referendum on Wednesday, and the administration has pulled the plug on it. I don’t see how what Ucen says reflects badly on us, when we unanimously failed their referendum precisely because of some of the reasons you bring up.

    Also, talking about our A.S. and the A.S. that passed the pulse referendum as if we’re the same political entity makes no more sense than saying “The House of Representatives is very inconsistent on Health care: In 2010, they passed comprehensive health care reform, and in 2011 they passed the Paul Ryan budget, which would voucherize Medicare and repeal the same health care bill.” Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner responsible for what happened when the other party held the speakership? I doubt that a PULSE referendum would have passed during either of the two most recent council terms.

    The Supreme Court Reference is also misleading: It’s true that the university can’t force students to fund an org, but the sentence implies that the ruling was much broader, saying that referenda to fund specific orgs are invalid. Instead, it seems to be saying that students can do what they already do: Ask for a pro-rata refund of any money whose use they object to.

  4. My rebuttals:

    Kevin – I plan on one of these days doing a detailed report on SPACES. Thus far it hasn’t been my priority. I frankly don’t care what they print, what I do care about is how they are exempt from all the rules that other papers on campus have to abide by. As for other articles being written by me, it is tough when only a handful of students on campus actually do any research about this school whatsoever. Most of the articles investigating parking and about free speech at UCSD were also written by me. Your reply signals I need to do a detailed analysis into SPACES, beyond just their special privileges, so I’ll look into it at some point in the near future.

    Mac – On your first point: I said the scholarships come from the total new budget, not just from the “new fee.” The “Pro-Statement” is unclear on that point.

    The “multi-million dollar losses” argument needs to be addressed because supporters of the referendum have argued that the university could make up $550,000 in increased revenues. Now although this is a pittance in comparison to the new athletics budget, it is still likely wishful thinking. See: CA high speed rail or the SD trolley to understand how costs rapidly balloon out of proportion in comparison to revenue. Or for a point closer to home, look at how quickly UCEN and TPS have found themselves in debt.

    Whether the AS supported a CLICS referendum or not is unimportant. It’s the fact that AS is inconsistent on referendum in general and promotes them if it suits your purposes. I actually support the decision not to run a CLICS referendum and I support the AS decision whenever they decide not to run a referendum.

    Thank you for voting down UCEN. I did not know that had happened. The Guardian reported that you had tabled it to next week and Jeremy Akiyama’s email led me to believe that the referendum was still up to a vote.

    I also hope that the AS votes against the $.12 referendum promoted by Matt Bradbury that looks to generate $6K/year. AS has a lot of gall to receive $100K in stipends per year and ask for an additional $6K for one of your pet projects. Does anyone on AS actually recognize that the money that you are receiving and sitting on is not YOUR money. It’s money that came from the pockets of the STUDENTS (or in the case of financial aid, came from the pockets of TAXPAYERS).

    Now I compared your AS to the Associated Students that passed the PULSE referendum because the Associated Students is morally bankrupt. AS has the ability to vote to raise your own stipends and hasn’t changed that. AS claims to represent students at UCSD and keeps trying to pass propaganda “resolutions” that are an absolute waste of time and only serve to misrepresent the university and hurt the campus climate. I’m also gonna add that the AS also continues to screw over the students on SunGod.

    At the core of the matter is the Associated Students assumes power at the expense of the students. You’re blind to the fact that you are puppets of the administration because you’re primarily a bunch of petty bureaucrats who just want to see the system run smoothly and maybe get your name on a piece of AS legislation to say that you were the big man or woman (gender neutral language please, lol) on campus. Or win the vote over which one of you wore your damn AS polo most often… le sigh.

  5. […] here. A profile of the referendum process at UCSD and an indictment of the practice can be found here from a UCSD […]

  6. It is past time for University of California Regent Lansing to deal with the economic realities that the Board of Regents cannot escape. UC Berkeley picks the pockets of Californian students and their parents clean. (The author has 35 years’ consulting, has taught at Cal where he observed the culture & ways of senior management & was not fired)

    UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) has forgotten he is a public servant, steward of the public money, not overseer of his own fiefdom. Tuition fee increases exceed national average rate of increase; On an all-in-cost ranked # 1 most expensive public university; Recruits (using California tax $) out of state & foreign affluent $50,600 tuition students who displace qualified instate applicants from Cal; Spends $7,000,000 + for consultants to do the work of his management team (prominent East Coast university accomplishing same at 0 cost); When procuring consultants failed to receive alternative proposals; Pays ex Michigan governor $300,000 for several lectures; Tuition to Return on Investment drops below top 10; QS academic ranking falls below top 10.

    In tough economic times, unpleasant decisions must be made. UC Board of Regents Chair Lansing must oust Chancellor Birgeneau
    Email opinion to

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