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OPINION: Much ado about nothing

Robert Carpenter: Why the Kyle Field referendum doesn’t mean what you think

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 02:02


It was the first announcement of Friday evening, quickly forgotten by the few hundred students waiting around Sul Ross for election results.

That Kyle Field Renovation Fee Referendum — let’s talk about it. With more than 12,000 students weighing in: 65.16 percent oppose, 34.84 percent support.

But what exactly does this result mean?
At face value, it means almost two-thirds of the student body is “[against] increasing sports pass prices and fees, and support funding the renovations out of funds currently generated by the University Advancement Fee [UAF].” The remaining third support increasing the UAF by $23.25 per semester for a full-time student and sports passes by $139.20.

If only things were so simple.

The background to the referendum is an elaborate, $450 million overhaul of Kyle Field. Students have been asked to provide $75 million, with other funds coming from donors and the cities of Bryan-College Station. The referendum was intended to gauge how students wanted to afford this obligation.

Students were presented a choice: Pay extra for a better football stadium, or receive the same better football stadium without paying a penny more. It is a manipulative dichotomy that was camouflaged on the ballot by complex explanations.

The costs of increasing student fees and sports passes were clear, quantifiable and explicitly communicated — namely, $185.70 per year for a full-time student with a sports pass.

Contrastingly, the cost of not increasing student fees was insidiously hidden in the clause, “funding the renovations out of funds currently generated by the University Advancement Fee.”

Everyone who is surprised that students would rather keep their money than give it to A&M, please raise your hand. For those with their hands raised, refer to the referendum results, which confirm this principle and little else.

I can almost hear my microeconomics professor lecturing about this situation: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Someone has to pay.”

A little background about the mysterious UAF: University President R. Bowen Loftin introduced the fee last spring as a band-aid meant to take money from some departments and distribute to others according to prioritized need.

In essence, the fee was created to make the student’s tuition dollar go farther, out of necessity. It helps fund academic and student-support operations including libraries, the Department of Student Life, IT services and many other University operations that play roles in our education.

With this in mind, consider once more the first option offered by Student Senate on the referendum: Do not increase student fees, but take $5 million from the UAF every year to pay for the football stadium renovation.

As one senator flippantly wrote about the issue, “You're saying we really can't find less than $5 million worth of bureaucracy to cut for a few years?”

Replace the term “$5 million worth of bureaucracy” with “$5 million worth of staff/technology/library hours,” and the term “a few years” with “three decades.” Now we have appropriate context.

Although the senator was within his liberty to argue with whatever rhetoric for whatever result he desired, it was inappropriate to allow this sentiment to creep into the referendum itself.

Students were funneled toward a conclusion by the manner in which the referendum was worded, a fact about which University administrators are aware. Why do you think the administration released its own, simultaneous poll last week concerning the exact same Kyle Field topic as the SGA referendum?
If the administration decides to ignore the referendum and impose fee and sports pass increases next year, student senators will inevitably throw their hands up, crying that student voice is being ignored. I am even willing to concede for the sake of argument that Loftin and others may very well have already planned to move forward with fee increases, regardless of student feedback and regardless of how the question was worded.

But the thing is — we will never know.

By outlining the cost of one option and ignoring the costs of the other — by stacking the deck — Senate sacrificed the best opportunity we had to gauge student opinion.

In what context other than student elections will SGA solicit 12,000 student responses in a two-day period? Look as you may, there isn’t one.

I am not disappointed in this referendum because of the result. Truth be told, I believe that the $200-per-student increase would be better spent retaining faculty than erecting a gaudy sanctuary to our football obsession. But I am disappointed because the referendum writers in Student Senate did not trust the student body to make the right decision on its own.

 

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