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UCD stops Aggie fee review after court ruling

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From page A3 | March 14, 2014 |

Now that a student court has voided a vote on funding The California Aggie, a UC Davis spokesman said the administration will take a wait-and-see approach on the matter.

“Everything is on hold now,” Keith Sterling, director of news and media relations, said Thursday. “With this latest development, there’s now some uncertainty around the issues. We will stand by for any next steps taken by the students.”

In a four-day election that ended Feb. 21, it appeared that students had approved a $3.88-per-quarter fee: $3.10 for The Aggie, 78 cents for student financial aid. That would generate an estimated $272,800 annually for the student paper — which is some $50,000 in debt after its advertising revenue collapsed in recent years.

Without the added money, The Aggie announced this week it would suspend its weekly print edition and stop paying it staff for the spring quarter, which starts March 27.

The night before, the court of the Associated Students of UC Davis called for a revote. It issued a preliminary ruling that found the chair of the elections committee, Eric Renslo, guilty of incorrectly proclaiming that the ballot measure had passed.

In an email to the court, Renslo signaled his intention to appeal the ruling.

The measure needed 60 percent approval, plus one vote, with a turnout of more than 20 percent of undergraduates. Renslo announced that 27 percent of students voted, with 73 percent supporting the fee.

The court found he had used an official student head count other than the one from the registrar’s office specified in the ballot measure. He also incorrectly counted those who abstained from that question on the ballot toward turnout, the court found.

The judges sided with student petitioner Gloria Chen, who contended that using the correct head count and tossing out abstentions meant that only 19.26 percent of students voted on the measure. A final ruling is due April 2.

Sterling said campus counsel is working to determine whether the student court’s ruling is binding.

The measure language called for fee money to begin flowing to the paper at the start of the spring quarter. Student fee votes are advisory, however, and both UCD Chancellor Linda Katehi and the UC Office of the President, which has the final say, can edit the language or reject the measure.

After the vote, The Aggie’s staff felt the length of the review meant it had missed its chance on an allocation of funding for the upcoming quarter.

Not so, Sterling said: For a fee to be implemented for the spring quarter, it needed to be approved and to the registrar in early February.

“No one ever told us that,” Aggie editor-in-chief Elizabeth Orpina said Thursday. 

Sterling said that the vice chancellor for student affairs, Adela de la Torre, had been working with UCOP staff on the fee language to ensure compliance with UC policy before sending it to the desks of Katehi and President Janet Napolitano.

“Any proposed increase in fees is a serious matter and needs careful analysis by our administration,” Sterling said. “It’s a complicated process. Even if it’s approved, financial aid packages need to be revamped to reflect this, for example, even though (the fee is) only a few dollars.”

Continuing to print the paper and pay the staff salaries would have cost The Aggie about $30,000 during the spring. Orpina said she believes it would be irresponsible to add to the paper’s debt.

With a next step unclear, she said the staff will take time to regroup.

“I don’t trust ASUCD to figure it out,” Orpina said. “We finished our last publication, and now it’s finals. Typically, we would take a break, and that’s what I think we’re going to do.”

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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