The Student Association will hold a referendum this week in which students can vote to reinstate or veto the mandatory student activity fee for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years despite having previously held a vote on the same issue last semester. The referendum will be held in conjunction with regular officer elections.
The referendum — identical to one held in September when students voted by a nine-point margin to nix the mandatory fee — will be open to all undergraduates and held from Wednesday at 10 a.m. to Friday at 5 p.m. on the SA website.
SA uses the $109 per student per semester fee to fund student club budgets, Fall and Spring Fest, the Comedy Series and other campus events and programs. The organization has a total budget of roughly $4 million, according to the SA website.
Students will be charged $109 per semester for the next two academic years if they vote mandatory on the student activity fee. If students vote to make the fee voluntary, no fee will be collected, which SA officials say will deprive them of their main source of funding.
“UB provides no mechanism to collect voluntary activity fees. It’s not like a student could check a box to pay a voluntary fee with their tuition,” SA lawyer Joshua Korman wrote in an email to The Spectrum. “Under such circumstances, of course SA and the clubs would try to do whatever fundraising they could to continue to survive in some manner. But there is no way to get rid of the mandatory student activity fee and still have the same level of student activities.”
The Spectrum is investigating claims that the university provides no process for the collection of a voluntary fee.
The SA could use university “personnel or facilities of the campus” to collect a voluntary student activity fee with permission from UB President Satish Tripathi, under SUNY policy.
Students voted last September by a nine-point margin to make the mandatory student fee voluntary. That election sported a turnout rate of 5.15%, which, while below average, was not exceptionally low in comparison to recent turnout rates.
This spring’s referendum would either change or confirm that result.
The SA usually holds a referendum on the student activity fee every other year, but additional referenda, such as this one, may be held under SUNY policy and Article XI, Section i of SA’s Bylaws.
“For decades, UB’s undergraduate students voted to support the mandatory student activity fee by overwhelming margins,” Korman wrote in an email. “The 2020 referendum was decided by a narrow margin [of nearly nine points], and the election was an outlier the whole way around. The vote took place under unprecedented circumstances with significant restrictions on student activities by UB and the government.”
The SA has overwhelmingly supported keeping the student activity fee mandatory in its communication with students.
The SA has displayed posters around campus and on its website comparing “life with SA” — in vibrant colors and with checkboxes dedicated to things like “free events” and “no-cost services” — to “life without SA” — in black with X’s covering things like “events” and “clubs” and “Canceled” running across the bottom.
A post on the SA’s Instagram account from Saturday reads, in part, “This referendum vote will decide how normal things will be for [the] next two years. Don’t forget to vote mandatory.”
SA president Nelaje Branch wrote in an email to the student body March 30 that, “If the referendum fails, all clubs will start the new school year with a budget of $0 as well as the elimination of SA service[s], so make sure you vote mandatory!”
For students to vote on the SA’s website, they must scroll past an ad cataloging everything that would be “canceled” under a voluntary fee and a statement in large font reading, “VOTE TO SAVE STUDENT RUN PROGRAMMING[.] SAY YES TO MANDATORY!!!”
“SA has made extensive efforts to publicize the vote to undergraduates,” Korman said. “Outreach efforts are appropriate to provide students with the information they need to make an informed decision. ...The pandemic has forced SA to rely primarily on online communications. SA hopes to do a better job with its online communications efforts this spring than was done in the fall.”
Voting on the referendum and for SA officers will begin Wednesday at 10 a.m. and run until Friday at 5 p.m. and can be done here.
Candidate registration and nominating petitions closed Monday at 9 a.m. The SA website lists three candidates with pending petitions for president — Robert DeMarco, Nicholas Singh and Parker Fields — and two candidates with pending petitions for treasurer — Austin Wolfgang and Becky Paul Odionhin.
Branch, vice president Ghuzlan Alhadad, treasurer Sayan Trotman and elections and credentials chair Daniel Deslippe did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
Grant Ashley is an assistant features editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Grant Ashley is the editor in chief of The Spectrum. He's also reported for WBFO, WIVB and The Buffalo News. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on the platform formerly known as Twitter at @Grantrashley.