Gianino: The 5.2 Million Dollar Question

Nobody likes their dirty laundry out where everyone can see it — but when that dirty laundry is costing students hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, something is very wrong. Let’s start our trek into what the 2016-2017 Associated Students (AS) leadership doesn’t want you to know…

Every quarter we as students pay a $67.25 fee to the university marked as a “campus activity fee” that goes to things from Sun God Festival to Safe Rides to Triton Dine the week of finals. Now add it all up and that’s a lot of money — $5.2 million, $5,171,256.00 to be exact. AS, us, elect representatives to allocate this money on our behalf. It is the duty and responsibility for these representatives to safeguard our student fees. Now, quite literally, here is the million-dollar question: What do 50 students do with $5.2 million at their disposal?

Let’s focus on a minor subset, representative of a larger endemic issue. An entity some of you may know, the Student Sustainability Collective (SSC) has been allocated $225,305.28 for the 2016-2017 academic year through a referendum-mandated lock-in. That money is controlled independently by the SSC and does not have any oversight by any entity or administration because of the referendum lock-in and the organizational chaos. They can, and do, fund anything they want; things the AS funding guide strictly prohibits, such as airfare. Additionally, they do not need approval for their budget from our representatives, the AS Senate. This has led to irresponsible usage of our student fees to fund things like airplane tickets and egregious stipends ($120/week) for the directors of this collective. This includes multiple directors for finance, peer education, and fossil fuel divestment. For context, AS’ own Vice President of Finance, who manages a budget over 20 times larger gets paid less. Furthermore, the Associated Vice Presidents, who direct events and programs like Safe Rides and the Triton Food Pantry, get paid $100 per week. Lack of this representative oversight has resulted in a major lapse of organizational and fiscal accountability to the students.

The SSC currently displays no governing documents nor an executive budget on their web page. And unless you are part of a select circle, you would not have easy access to this information. Now here’s some of the dirty laundry I was talking about: $64,200 of that money, almost a third of their budget, is used for student stipends while only $28,719, roughly 13 percent, is used for external operation. That means that for every dollar of your student fees they get 13 cents goes directly to us while 30 cents goes to paying themselves. To give you some perspective, if this model were applied to Walmart, the top executives and board of directors would each make a little over eight billion dollars a year — that’s $8,000,000,000.00. Tell me that is sustainable.

Now, this is not an isolated problem. This happens across the board on the ASUCSD 2016-2017 budget with student stipends and salaries. And what are our leaders doing about this? I’ll tell you. A minority of your representatives working to rectify this situation have been blocked at every corner by an institution that prizes idealism and narcissism over pragmatism and responsibility. Acts to hold student leaders accountable such as withholding the appointment of the SSC directors until their organizational problems had been rectified have been met with hostility and intolerance from the current AS President and the cabinet. Implicit and explicit instructions, such as emails from the President directing the Senate to vote a certain way have been routinely handed down to the senate from the executive, all but silencing the student voice.

This overreaching abuse of power undermines and violates the democratic process. Not allowing thoughtful debate as a collective, which we were elected to do, diminishes the student’s body’s power while handing over the decision making to a small group (4) of executives. Attempting to override open public debate tarnishes the very responsibility each elected student must uphold. The elected AS President told student senators, “The plan thus far is that we will approve the 18 director positions as is,” and “My hope is that we approve these 18 appointment,” and “We’ve identified… concepts that we plan to work on,” (where “we” is not the AS Senators, but Exec.). There was then an attempt to isolate people that disagree with the decision stating, “If anyone has any concerns […] I would like to have these discussions prior to our Wednesday meeting.”

This should not, and cannot, be the way our mandatory student fees are distributed. We as students must demand transparency and accountability from these organizations that receive our funding, whether we support them or not. Intolerant and hegemonic structures within AS leadership have silenced our voices and ensure the continuation of this irresponsibility.

I’ll let you answer the five-million-dollar question yourself, but it is safe to say that our student leaders are not telling us everything they do with our money. Welcome to ASUCSD.

Zack Gianino is the former 2015-2016 AS Transfer Senator and a guest writer. His views do not reflect the opinion of The Triton.

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