Fee vote: democracy in action it wasn’t

The student activities fee referendum that was held by the Yale College Council last week was a mockery of democracy. Not only were the only ways in which students were informed of the vote — e-mail and representatives sitting in the dining halls — essentially just campaign propaganda in favor of the vote, but the organization that was holding the referendum was in fact only seeking support. It was, therefore, completely disingenuous to call the vote a “referendum” in the first place. It should have been called what it in fact was — a signature drive for a petition to implement a student activities fee.

Under those terms, we can see what actually happened: 1,855 instances of support were amassed — an impressive number for a campaign in support of the fee. However, in light of the YCC’s sending campaign e-mails with links to the voting at the YaleStation Web site, in addition to the YCC representatives sitting in dining halls with “Vote Yes” signs next to their laptops, this was hardly a situation in which the electorate was free to make even somewhat independent decisions. Not even a modicum of impartiality was evident in the entire process. Few voices of opposition were heard amid the din of support. This was almost reminiscent of Soviet elections, which were basically rubber stamps of support for the Communist party members appointed to fill the given administrative roles.

And what is this student activities fee in the first place? As described by the YCC, it is a payment of $50 made voluntarily by Yale undergraduates toward a fund that will be distributed among campus-wide social events, club sports, student organizations and new so-called “intercollegiate initiatives,” the meaning of which is not immediately clear.

This fund should, according to the Council, bring in an estimated $107,500. That means that the college council expects only about 40 percent of Yale’s 5,250 or so undergraduates to pay up. Given the monopoly in campaigning for support that the YCC now has, conceivably there will be students willing to pay the fee, though one naturally wonders where that magical number 40 percent came from. After all, trumpets the council, 77.97 percent of voting students cast votes in favor, and 45 percent of undergraduates voted. Is that not a sufficient crosssection of student opinion? In any case, the numbers tell us that, of the students who purportedly approve of the new fee, only about half are actually willing to follow through and pay up. And we cannot even be sure of that number, because the fee is purely voluntary. This is hardly the “strong statement” of student support that YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06 claims it is. Indeed, this fund is built on shaky ground.

Al Jiwa, president of the Yale College Republicans, is correct in asserting in a recent issue of the Yale Herald: “Requiring all students to contribute to a YCC slush fund is a ridiculous proposition,” since Yale students would be submitting money to an organization “without any direct accountability to their classmates.” What ought to happen is that students fund the activities in which they actually participate. Even if I were willing to pay the fee (which I certainly am not), I would not want 20 percent of my $50 to go to the club sports that I do not play, many of whose players do not even need my help. I do not want 15 percent of those funds to go to undergraduate organizations of which I can only truly commit to two or three at most. I do not want another 15 percent to go to the other 11 colleges for their students to organize events and parties for which there is no guarantee of campus-wide access. And I certainly do not want half of my payment to go toward campus-wide events, since I am not humanly able to participate in all of them. In other words, I want to decide what I do with my own money. I do not need the Yale College Council to do that for me.

The fact is that a blanket fund would not only help those student activities that actually need help, but also those that do not. A blanket student activities fee is like performing brain surgery with a sledgehammer — certainly, a more rational and direct way of helping those in need could be implemented.

In short, we have a “referendum” whose majority was tainted by brazen campaigning, suspect number-crunching from the YCC with respect the amount of funds to be collected, and a fund over which the students themselves have very little control. This is a travesty of democracy, and that’s all, folks.

Jeffrey Weng is a freshman in Calhoun College.