Jun 20, 2019

Students question closed IRA fee meeting

During a time when normally only one or two students speak up, six stood up during the Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) meeting this Thursday to air their concerns over the $70 Instructionally Related Activity (IRA) Fee increase, which could still happen despite 65 percent of students voting against it last week.

In front of nearly 20 observers and news cameras from three different local TV stations, students asked ASI to push for opening the Campus Fee Advisory Committee meeting next week.

The fee committee meetings are traditionally closed to the public. But, the students wanted an open meeting next week because the committee will be making their final recommendation to University President John D. Welty on whether to approve the fee increase or not. Welty will ultimately be making the final decision.

The IRA fee referendum would increase student fees by $70 per semester. Athletics would get $50 of the money and the remaining $20 would fund field trips, club activities and other student-related activities on campus.

About 20 students opposed to the fee increase, led by senior liberal studies major Hector Cerda, met on Wednesday to discuss the referendum and the meeting. They decided to take their concerns to ASI after Dean of Student Affairs Paul Oliaro, Ph.D., told them that a few ASI members were on the fee committee, as well.

Oliaro is also the chair of the fee committee and was at Wednesday’s meeting to answer questions about how the process works.

He said that the ASI representatives who are on the fee committee would be receptive to student opinions.

“They’ve done a good job in the past, and I’m sure they’ll continue to do a good job,” Oliaro said.

During the ASI meeting, Cerda argued that the meetings needed to be open because California law requires that most meetings should be open to the public. There are some exceptions to this requirement, and according to Oliaro, Fresno State’s lawyers have said that the fee committee is exempt, meaning that they are not required to keep the meeting open.

ASI President Juan Pablo Moncayo explained the rationale for keeping advisory committee meetings closed. He said students and faculty need a place to talk about their ideas freely, especially those in the minority. He said if the situation were reversed and those opposed to the fee increase were in the minority, they would want a place to speak their mind without being shouted down by the majority.

Moncayo said it would be unfortunate if a member of the committee felt that they couldn’t speak on either side of the issue.

Cerda feels that the fee committee meeting should be opened because of the impact the IRA fee will have on all students.

“If it affects students, then we have every right to be there,” Cerda said. He said that the closed meetings shut students out of the process.

Walter Ramirez, another student opposed to the IRA fee increase, was concerned over whether student representation on the committee reflected the majority vote of students. ASI voted on April 3 to support the fee increase.

“What about the people that voted ‘no’?” Ramirez asked. “Do they have a voice at this [fee committee] meeting?”

ASI Executive Vice President Stephen Trembley said that he and other members of ASI would be meeting with Oliaro to figure out ways to make the meeting more open to students.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible,” Trembley said.

Another criticism brought up was the question over whether voting mattered, if the president was going to be making the final decision anyway.

On Wednesday, Oliaro said that referendums have never been binding decisions, just a way of consulting the students for their opinions. The committee did have the option of going to a variety of student clubs and organizations to hold discussions about the fee increase, but decided against it.

“The referendum is just a broader means of consultation,” Oliaro said.

During the ASI meeting, Moncayo stressed that several other fee increases had been voted down by students, and Welty has never gone against the student vote.

Some students were still concerned over the details of the referendum itself. Several mentioned that they did not see the point in paying for athletics when they did not go to the games.

ASI Vice President of Finance Russel Statham said that while he was on the commission that decided to recommend the fee increase in the first place, “we looked at every available opportunity and every available option” to bring more money into athletics without increasing student fees, and there wasn’t another option.

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