Kyle Field Referendum vs. University Propaganda

Commentary       February 28, 2013 2:17 AMBy:        0 comments

By Chris Russo ’12, Student Senator

Senator Russo debates at a Student Senate meeting.

Senator Russo ’12 debates at a Student Senate meeting.

Last week, the Texas A&M university administration issued its own email-based survey with a stated goal of gauging student opinion on their proposed plan of making students foot the bill for $75 million worth of stadium renovations to the East Side of Kyle Field. These renovations consist primarily of:

  1. Demolishing and Rebuilding the East Side first deck. As before, this will be mostly non-student seating.
  2. Addressing Code issues on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd East Side Decks
  3. Updating Bathrooms and Concessions on the 2nd and 3rd East Side Decks
  4. Adding an Olsen Field-Style Exterior to the stadium

The university administration conducted several meetings early this semester with key student leaders, including the Student Body President and the Speaker of the Senate, in order to gauge support for an approximately $96/per year mandatory student fee to pay for the $4.93 million annual payment on the bond used for the East Side renovations.

Understandably, many student leaders had reservations about having students that regularly utilized the stadium for football games effectively have their experience highly subsidized by students who rarely or never used Kyle Field. The student leaders suggested a few alternatives:

  1. Raise Sports Passes (this would constitute approximately a $174/year increase on Football Options).
  2. 60/40 Model – Funding 60% of the cost from Sports Passes and 40% from Student Fees, based on the positive externalities gained by students who didn’t attend games.

And a third alternative, which was proposed by Speaker of the Senate Scott Bowen: Use existing University Advancement Fee funds in order to pay down the debt without raising the cost of attending Texas A&M.

Although I would normally frown upon fee money being used in such a way, the prospect of using existing funds rather than increasing the cost of education made this a very attractive alternative.

But is it feasible? YES! And here’s why:

  • UAF Funds currently amount to $113 million annually
  • UAF-Associated Services now have approximately $100 million in standing reserves
  • The Kyle Field Renovation costs only $4.93 million annually
  • If this were to be taken from existing UAF funds, it would take only a 4.4% increase in the student body in order to recoup the funds dedicated to Kyle Field. That’s overall growth, not annual.  And the university already announced that they plan to add over 10,000 engineering students over the next decade.

Using Existing Funds

The “student plan” would be to use a small part, perhaps $15 million, of the $100 million in UAF reserves over the next few years, until the student body grew by a small amount to fund the bond payments without dipping into reserves. This is a 30 year bond, folks. We’re talking about maybe 5 years’ worth of any cutting into reserves. And this could even be done without cutting into reserves: Certainly one could find $5 million worth of bureaucracy to cut for a few years.

To get the “student plan” on the table, Speaker Bowen introduced the student senate bill that setup the referendum, in which students were asked to choose between the 60/40 option or using existing UAF funds (with the assumption that any balance would be paid by Sports Pass holders if necessary).

This referendum passed the Senate was on the student body election ballot last week. The university administration, however, was not satisfied even with the 60/40 option (60% sports passes, 40% fees) presented in the SGA referendum. Instead, in their seemingly unnecessary survey, the university administration reversed the funding ratio to 60% through additional fees and 40% through Sports Pass price increases.

And the university administration wants us to vote on the fee increases for these renovations before seeing a budget or detailed drawings and plans! Seventy-Five Million Dollars, folks!

They Want Your Money

The reasons behind wanting a greater increase in student fees are self-serving. More guaranteed revenue means that the paying customers have much less power for recourse should the product not live up to its billing. If the renovations do not satisfy students or turn out not to be worth the original cost, there’s nothing the stakeholders can do.

Instead, the university administration wants to guarantee as much income as possible so that students don’t have a choice whether the product is good enough or not – they’re forced to pay the majority of it whether they like it or not.

Often, the tone of those in favor of funding a football stadium at any cost comes off like this:

Oh, we hire coaches that go under .500 for the better part of a decade? You’re a poor grad student trying to support a family and you can’t work because you’re from another country? Tough. We’re going to make you pay for it because Good Aggies Make Other Aggies Pay for Stuff They Want or something. Highway Six runs both ways, you 2%er. Get out of here if you just want to get a degree for a reasonable price and support the University in ways you can afford, while cheering on the Aggies from your apartment.

IMG_0878-001So instead of allowing the students’ input, the university administration issued their option, complete with unlimited support, through an email survey with no tangible listed drawbacks and no opposition. They figured the 12th Man Foundation’s two-day, full-page, full-color, back-cover ads in The Battalion (resources that no students can reasonably obtain, by the way) would pull the wool over people’s eyes enough so that students wouldn’t question the motives and would just blindly vote “yes.”

This is not the end of the issue, however. Fortunately, the university administration’s survey is not a binding referendum. And the SGA referendum results show that even more students are opposed to a fee increase. The Board of Regents has the final say on the UAF increase and on any renovation proposals. You can bet that Speaker Bowen, myself, and other student leaders committed to doing a good job of representing you, the students, will oppose a fee increase tooth and nail and try to use existing funding resources whenever possible (without sacrificing academic excellence, of course).

Fullscreen capture 2272013 60110 AMWhy don’t I trust the university administration to hold up their end of the deal? Because as long as I have been a student here at Texas A&M, they failed repeatedly.

In order to secure votes for a $60/semester fee increase “for the MSC Renovation,” they promised students that the MSC would stay at least partially open at all times. But once their fee increase was approved, they backed out and closed the MSC completely, citing logistics that should have been clear as day from the beginning.

The administration justified a Green Fee and said that it would have a sunset clause (would have to be reapproved in 5 years), then they went and rolled it into the University Advancement Fee. The “temporary” fee increase is now permanent.

They said that mandatory meal plans would result in expanded hours and no cutbacks at Sbisa, then they outsourced and signed contracts that kept both mandatory meal plans and reduced hours of operation at Sbisa.

Apologists for the university administrators will turn a blind eye to these clear violations of trust, but students should demand honesty, integrity, and transparency from the leadership, just as it is expected of them in their time at Texas A&M and beyond.

Again, the fight is not over.  Please join me in lobbying President Loftin and the Board of Regents to fund the Kyle Field renovation in a method that doesn’t require an increase in student fees. This is about doing what is right.

Chris Russo is class of 2012 and a Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student.  He is a veteran member of the Texas A&M Student Senate.

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