Last year, when the YCC proposed a Student Activities Fee, it was only $30, of which the YCC would collect 25 percent. The University did not implement the fee, and the proposal came back this year with a vengeance, costing $50, of which fully 50 percent would go to the YCC. Moreover, the YCC’s maneuvers to demonstrate student “approval” of the fee have been shockingly undemocratic.
Events like the YCC fall show should not be paid for by all students; instead, they should be funded by sales of tickets reflecting each event’s true cost. Perhaps not enough students will be willing to pay the $10 or $15, but if ticket sales cannot pay for a performer, that means on-campus demand for the performance is too low to justify the expense. It is both inefficient and unethical for the YCC to force an event by billing all students.
In terms of funding club sports and organizations, the fee is self-undermining. As a club frisbee player, I currently pay most expenses myself. However, if I pay the $50 activities fee, the YCC will first take a $25 cut, and then the UOFC and “intercollegiate activities initiative” will take $15, leaving only $10 to divide among all club sports. Obviously, my sport will receive no more than $1 of my money. I will continue to pay frisbee expenses myself, and the $50 fee will actually represent $49 less that I can afford to pay. This is extremely inefficient and raises the question of who stands to benefit if students in organizations receiving extra funding are the same students who are paying the fee. The only true benefactor is the YCC, which will be able to burn even more student money on Spring Fling.
In a recent letter to the editor, YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06 argued that having students pay for their own activities “amounts to a student body segregated along economic lines, as only those who can pay are able to participate.” Cedar’s decision to play the poverty card is almost clever. Unfortunately, the true division at Yale is between those who can send their tuition bills to their parents, to be paid with no questions asked, and those who receive bills in their own P.O. boxes and work long hours to pay the ever-increasing Student Income Contributions in their financial-aid packages. The YCC has advertised the activities fee as “covered by financial aid,” but unless it is willing to foot the bill itself, some or all of the cost may likely be reflected in yet another Student Contribution hike.
In addition to the fact that the fee is inefficient and illogical, the YCC’s sneak-attack approach was an affront to democracy. Although the YCC has been discussing a fee for years, it announced the online referendum only a few days in advance. The YCC, which selected the date, was able to mass-produce campaign literature and place opinion pieces in the YDN. In contrast, students opposed to the fee never had a chance to research the issue and create their own campaign (or raise the money to pay for it, as they lack the YCC’s funding from tuition). A letter I submitted to the YDN was not published because the editor couldn’t run it before the vote’s end. If the YCC had been sincerely interested in gauging student opinion, it would have announced the referendum weeks, not days, in advance.
Cedar claimed that the YCC Web site for the issue “contained links to all articles and Op-Eds about the fee, including negative ones, published in the past months.” This is a blatant lie. The Web site contained nine links to YDN and Herald pieces. Eight of these advocated the fee; the one that opposed it was at the bottom of the list, guaranteeing that it would be seen only by students who read all nine articles or those who habitually read lists backwards. Worse, the site completely omitted an April 21, 2004 letter titled “YCC needs a clear plan if it wants more funds” as well as an April 22, 2004 News’ View that dared to discuss an activities fee’s potential shortcomings. The links were deliberately censored; Cedar’s claim of fair presentation is false. In addition, the YCC’s information was itself suspect: Its VOTE YES literature, for example, overstated Dartmouth’s activities fee by 350 percent, an indefensibly reckless error.
The YCC made the fee opt-out, rather than opt-in, because it realizes that Yale students, always busy and often exhausted by their myriad pursuits, will forget to opt out, or will send tuition bills to parents unaware of the opt-out option. Besides, the YCC has made no mention of what “opting out” will entail. Will we have to write a letter to SFAS, or perhaps go to 246 Church? The YCC claimed that no one would be hurt by the optional fee, but a lengthy opt-out process could cost students a great deal of time and effort.
Finally, it is critical to note that, despite the YCC’s extensive campaign, the majority did not speak. Only 45 percent of students voted, and of those, only 78 percent favored the fee. When I discussed the issue with my friends, many of them said the reason they hadn’t voted was not because they didn’t care, but because they felt the YCC presented biased information and were uncomfortable voting without hearing both sides. Thus, the referendum lacks legitimacy not only because participation was limited to a minority, but also because the measure was fueled by a campaign of deliberate misinformation that discouraged attentive students from voting.
I hope that the University will not impose this fee on us, but perhaps the amount can at least be reduced. At a minimum, the opt-out procedure should be easy and preferably online-accessible. It is in the YCC’s best interest to make opting out difficult, but if the YCC had the technology to securely and accurately collect individual referendum votes, surely it has the technology to record individual opt-out decisions.
When Yale abandoned a student activities fee in the 80s, Lloyd Suttle, a former dean of student affairs, cited inefficiency as the main reason. The current administration must take care to prevent history from repeating itself.
Jacob Jou is a junior in Saybrook College.