Monday, August 27, 2007
Letter from UCDGSA to UCSA on Budget
Dear UCSA Board of Directors:
In the June 2007 UC Davis Graduate Student Association Assembly meeting, the Assembly voted not to approve the UCSA Budget for FY 2007-08. The Assembly asked us to write a letter explaining why we did not approve the budget, and which specific line items concerned us most.
Over the past few years, UCSA has placed a high emphasis on hiring new staff, particularly in terms of field organizing staff. The budget for staff salaries and staff benefits has risen by $121,500 in the past four years, an increase of ~ 77%. We do not believe that hiring more organizing staff is the best path for UCSA at this point. Most organizing of students happens at the campus level, and much of the work of UCSA is best performed by local volunteers. Since graduate students have fewer numbers to organize for direct action, we generally prefer to work to influence the system from within due to our greater proportional influence within our campuses as compared to within UCSA. Due to this, we see little to no benefit from this expansion at UCSA.
We do not object to the budget for staff salaries but rather staff assignments, which should be itemized by position in the budget. Instead of hiring three organizing staff, we would be better served by hiring additional legislative affairs, university affairs, or media relations staff. These staff would be better able to serve the campuses in areas where campus offices are weak – connections to the wider governing bodies of the University of California, the UC Regents and the California Legislature. Additionally, it would better serve graduate and professional students, who rely on expertise instead of numbers to build student power.
The GSA Assembly is concerned spending is not well controlled within the UCSA Budget. For instance, we feel that $10,000 is too great an expense to administrate the UCSA website. In fact, the $5,000 that the Board of Directors spent last year was more than adequate to make a respectable website and manage our email listserves. However, little has been added to give the site a more modern feel, and even the banner on the website still has the incorrect name of the organization. We do not feel that current structure of the website is effective at communicating with and representing such a large organization, and throwing money at the problem will not fix the underlying structural issues. Instead of paying for the Voter Voice system, we could have a software engineer design an email system specifically for our students as well as have a website redesign for under $5,000. At the very least, seeing how little progress has been made on the website from last year, we would like to see a competitive bid process for the website administration.
We believe that UCSA would be more effective in influencing legislation if the UCSA home office was relocated to Sacramento. While we have maintained the Oakland office for many years, the UC Student Lobby and UCSA originally had its headquarters in Sacramento. Then, with the Smith v. Regents decision, UCSA closed its Sacramento office and relocated to be near the UC Office of the President. UCSA has never fully regained the student voice that it had in the pre-Smith era, and we feel that the lack of a strong, continuous presence at the state capital is vital to our campaigns, as many of them need legislative support. While rallies and protests may be effective ways to garner media attention and pressure legislators, we would like UCSA to be more proactive and partner with legislators and engage in ongoing dialogue to influence legislation. At this point a Sacramento headquarters would be more cost-effective for the UCSA Budget, both in travel and office space. Examples of issues that would be better addressed under this model would be: financial support for student-initiated outreach, reducing nonresident tuition, and stopping fee hikes could use more attention from the California Legislature, and moving the UCSA main office could provide us with a better voice.
There is one more matter of concern in terms of fee hikes. While UCSA continually campaigns for a fee freeze for students, the minimum UCSA dues have increased at a rate which is proportional to the UC fee increases we have identified as excessive. It is hypocritical of us to run a long series of campaigns against fees while requiring our students to pay ever increasing amounts. While the case can be made that an investment in UCSA can reduce fees in the long term, UCSA has been relatively unsuccessful with freezing fees in the last few years, with the exception of last year’s gubernatorial election-induced fee freeze. UCSA officers and staff have been discussing running fee referenda for UCSA on different campuses, so we do not see these increases in UCSA fees stopping in the near term. Further, we reject any dilution of our own and our fellow associations’ autonomy due to UCSA referenda. Rather than inefficiently spending budget dollars to lobby our constituents to pay more, a better solution would be to effectively spend the money UCSA already has.
We in the UC Davis Graduate Student Association are not satisfied that graduate student concerns are being adequately addressed by the UCSA. This is a concern that has been mirrored by other graduate and professional student associations. We expect continuous improvement over the coming year if we are to continue our association with UCSA.
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