On the evening of September 15, 2005, Max Sklar ’06 sent out an e-mail imploring his fellow Yalies to opt out of the voluntary student activities fee established by the Yale College Council. The e-mail directed students to the Web site where they could pre-emptively cancel a charge to their tuition bill of $50 that would otherwise be used to fund the Fall Show, Spring Fling and club sports teams. For maximum effect, Sklar, a bespectacled computer science major, utilized a program that dispatched the e-mail to every enrolled student, a violation of the school’s spam policy.
It was the last step in a coordinated, well-executed campaign to bring down the YCC.
Just a few days earlier, on September 5th, Sklar’s friend and former roommate Daniel Wiznia ’06 (also known as the “Wiz,” his moniker from the duo’s WYBC talk-radio show, “Max and the Wiz”), had sent out a similar mass e-mail on behalf of a group called “Students for Responsible Student Government,” which for all intents and purposes, had two active members: Max and the Wiz. Wiznia labeled the fee a “slush fund.”
Sklar and Wiznia’s efforsts paid off. By the time their campaign was through and the accounting was done, 37 percent of Yale students opted out of the fee, a massive number considering the fact that the total money generated, $164,000, was 23.7 percent short of the $215,000 total that the YCC and the Yale administration were expecting to raise.
To hear Sklar and Wiznia tell it, the YCC resembles a banana republic.
“The YCC is out of control, and let me tell you something — we have to band together and shut them down,” Wiznia says, half-jokingly. On their weekly radio show, the two regularly attack the activities fee and the YCC representatives who enacted it. Sklar has created a facebook.com group entitled “The Rebellion Against the YCC” with an image of George Washington crossing the Delaware. So far, he’s the only member.
The controversy over the student activities fee dates back to the beginning of 2005 when the YCC decided to hold a referendum on the issue. After an aggressive publicity campaign led by then-YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06, the student body approved the imposition of a $50 charge. Students could opt out of paying the fee, and the YCC promised that information on how to do so would be forthcoming.
Yet that information was hard to come by, Sklar and Wiznia say. The YCC sent out numerous e-mails to students trumpeting the fee, but the only information regarding how to opt out was sent in a letter to tuition-payers (in nearly all cases, parents) during the summer. While facing an uphill battle, Sklar and Wiznia are happy to point out that only 45 percent of students even voted in the spring election authorizing the fee, and of that minority, 78 percent of students voted for it. That means that only 35 percent of the Yale student body voted for the fee, 2 percent less than the number of students who voted to opt out.
“And they called it a mandate!” Sklar exclaims in disbelief.
“Only 25% of the U.S. voted for George Bush,” Cedar retorts.
Ranting about various and sundry campus injustices is nothing new to the pair. For two years they have hosted one of the most popular student programs on WYBC radio. They scour the campus press every week, and for an hour on Friday afternoons ruminate on the folly of campus activism or the incorrigibility of the unions. Sometimes they invite debate on more inclusive fare, like last month’s discussion topic, “Harvard Sucks.” Almost all WYBC shows are music-based, but “Max and the Wiz” is caller-driven. Judging by the high call volume, many of the listeners the two garner each week are not Yale students but New Haven and area residents. The two have produced some 50 shows thus far in their time at the station.
Sklar has a funny bone in his body. I met him freshman year when we were both tapped as members of the Fifth Humour, Yale’s oldest sketch comedy troupe. Perhaps urged by his dissatisfaction with the current state of student government, he has taken the motto, “Think Globally, Act Locally” to heart and ran successfully for president of the Silliman College Council. A dutiful Silliman resident, he has attended their meetings for three years, and has held other offices such as Secretary and “soda girl.”
Wiznia too has an enterprising spirit. Last spring, he and a friend won $5,000 in the Yale Entrepreneurial Society’s 50K competition for designing an organizational device to accompany standard EKG machines. He is currently building a 15-foot wooden boat at home, and Sklar is quick to mention that Wiznia lists “bookseller” on his resume. “I have a pretty large inventory of over a thousand books,” Wiznia explains of his small internet operation. “It’s nothing that I can live off of.” Both are also members of the Engineering Design Team.
Under this veneer of nerdiness, however, lies a serious passion for pointing out the purported hypocrisies of college life and for righting wrongs.
Some sympathetic to the YCC position have quietly suggested that Sklar and Wiznia are obsessive loners with too much time on their hands. Yet the two Silliman seniors see themselves as standing up for the little guy — people like them. Violating Yale’s e-mail regulations was a small price to pay in order to strike at the heart of what Wiznia calls a “manipulative” student government. Perhaps the duo was making a fuss over a fee that in the face of $40,000 per annum tuition costs seems negligible, but was it not senator and insurgent presidential candidate Barry Goldwater who once claimed, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”?
The leaders of Yale’s taxpayer revolution see their work as anti-establishment crusaders having an important effect on future politicians who would otherwise run roughshod over the tax code.
“When they go into politics,” Sklar warns of the YCC representatives who proposed the fee last spring, “they’re going to charge a fee nationwide and we’re not going to be able to opt out.”
Cedar, who from his vantage point of ex-YCC president has been more charitable toward Max and the Wiz, admires the duo’s pluck. “One thing that you have to battle in student government is apathy,” he says. “The fact that people are getting angry about what student government is doing means that it’s relevant for the first time I’ve been at Yale.”
So at the end of the day, does the dirt of student politics truly stick?
“I’ve known Dan [Wiznia] for a while; I always thought he was a good little kid,” says current YCC President Steven Syverud ’06, who stands well over 6 feet tall. Syverud recalls that Wiznia used to play touch football with Syverud’s younger brothers when they came to visit him at Yale. He wants the two to know that he harbors no ill will, though he is unsure if the pair is willing to reconcile their differences with him.
“When they see me on the street they look down at their feet and shuffle away,” Syverud says. So much for sticking it to The Man.