Fresno State student government leaders have disagreed on how to put student money to work in making the campus’ voice heard at the statewide level.

Student money debated

Student association not funded for ‘08-‘09 school year

Fresno State student government leaders have disagreed on how to put student money to work in making the campus’ voice heard at the statewide level.

At the campus level, the differences in opinion and approach have led to up-and-down spending in the Associated Students Inc. (ASI) budget. At the state level, the differences have led to uncertainty about Fresno State’s role in lobbying lawmakers in Sacramento.

According to an analysis by The Collegian of the past five ASI budgets, expenditures for participation in the California State Student Association (CSSA) have varied widely. CSSA is an organization that advocates for student representation within state government; its goal is to unify the voice of more than 400,000 CSU students.

From 2001 to 2004, ASI paid dues and attended CSSA meetings. For the 2004-05 school year, ASI pulled dues but continued to attend meetings. ASI revaluated its decision and decided to again pay dues and attend meetings again from 2006 to 2008. For the current 2008-09 school year, ASI decided against paying dues or attending meetings.

When Fresno State pays its CSSA membership dues and participates, the campus’ voice is directly heard and its vote is counted. If Fresno State does not pay dues it is still represented on a broad level, because CSSA lobbies for the entire CSU system. However, the campus does not have a direct vote in what the group lobbies for.

Multiple ASI sources justify the pulling of dues, saying that CSSA has been ineffective in its mission. Also, they say that because Fresno State has traditionally had a strong presence in CSSA, the school’s opinions still carry significance even when Fresno State isn’t directly paying dues.

Russel Statham, last year’s ASI vice president of finance, said that because student fees are always a big concern, ASI consistently questions whether it is using that money appropriately.

“For this year we ultimately decided if it’s not worth spending dues on, it’s not worth spending money traveling to attend the meetings,” Statham said.

Budgets reveal fluctuation

As ASI’s involvement with CSSA has gone up and down, so has the funding allocated for participation. Here is a summary of recent ASI expenditures on CSSA membership dues, meeting attendance and lobbying efforts:

• In 2001-02, $12,660
• In 2002-03, $8,989
• In 2003-04, not available
• In 2004-05, $9,547
• In 2005-06, not available
• In 2006-07, $18,278
• In 2007-08, $15,819
• Allocated for 2008-09, $0

At a meeting in April 2008, ASI approved the 2008-09 budget that it is currently operating under. This budget did not include funds for membership in CSSA or travel for ASI executives to CSSA meetings.

According to Statham, the only money for CSSA that was approved for the 2008-09 year was travel costs for the director of university affairs to attend CSSA meetings and then report happenings to the ASI president and senate. Statham said the budget did not include funds for ASI executives or other staff to attend and did not include any travel, lodging or meeting registration.

ASI’s internal disagreement about the value of CSSA membership was illustrated this past summer when former ASI President Mackee M. Mason decided to attend CSSA meetings.

In an interview with The Collegian, Mason said that he believed ASI still needed to carry out lobbying efforts and have a presence in CSSA.

“It was up to this year’s administration to decide how they were going to do that,” he said. Mason said the funding for his trips to CSSA meetings this summer came from ASI’s general travel fund.

But Statham, who wrote the current budget, disagreed. He said that there were no specific entitlements for use of the general travel money, as it was discussed in April, and that there was no intention to use those funds to attend CSSA meetings.

Pulled Dues

Statham and others said that ASI had previously decided to decrease its involvement with CSSA because it didn’t agree with aspects of the organization. “It’s been pretty rocky,” Statham said of ASI’s relationship with CSSA.

Statham said ASI thought that CSSA had internal political and structural issues that needed mending before Fresno State paid its dues.

“I think the mission is a very valuable one and the organization has an important purpose but there is a lot of reform needed before it will become effective,” Statham said.

Statham said ASI saw problems last spring within several areas of CSSA, including the organization’s financial management, professionalism and administration.

“All of those factors come together to make you question how much money and resources CSSA is really worth it,” Statham said. “We decided [last spring] that the direction CSSA was going, it just wasn’t worth it anymore.”

CSSA Board of Directors Chair Tim Snyder said he thinks pulling dues is a poor choice of campus leaders.

“If you feel there is something that is not perfect with an organization, pulling dues does not help solve that problem,” he said.

Snyder said now is an important time for students to advocate for their education.

“The mission of the CSU is to provide an accessible and affordable education for students in California and the goal of CSSA is to fight for and protect what is important to those students,” he said.

Fresno State is not the only campus to pull dues. Eleven other campuses — including Long Beach, Fullerton and Bakersfield — have taken the same action.

Snyder said that although some campuses have legitimate reasons for pulling dues, other campuses’ reasons are petty. He said campuses do not present concrete objectives and often cite problems without suggestions to fix them.

Because of pulled dues, CSSA is now short on funds. It is understaffed and does not have the resources to improve the organization.

“The quality of service that we provide has been reduced,” Snyder said. “We have cut back on travel. I don’t even have business cards anymore.”

But Snyder also made the point that without adequate financial resources from the member campuses, CSSA will be unable to effectively do what the campuses want, creating a cycle. “It just replicates,” he said.

Discussions of compromise

Recently, current ASI President Graham Wahlberg decided to attend a CSSA board of trustees meeting Nov. 14 in Long Beach. Representatives from all 23 campuses were present to discuss pulled dues from various campuses and to try and come to a compromise.

Snyder said the group’s goal is to look beyond its recent difficulties and continue to carry out its mission.

Wahlberg said a lot of positive collaboration took place and many campuses are considering coming back to the table if certain conditions are met.

“If ASI does decide to pay dues or attend meetings, we will make sure our voices are heard,” Wahlberg said. “We will make sure past issues are dealt with before moving forward.”

Although paying dues to CSSA gives Fresno State the right to vote at the monthly meetings, both the current and past vice presidents of finance said that they feel Fresno State was receiving the same benefits whether it paid dues or not.

Current VP of Finance Lauren Johnson said: “Basically you’re paying for your right to vote.”

Statham said: “In principle, it makes a lot of sense to contribute to CSSA. But we are being represented whether we contribute or not.”