ASUO Burns Down Athletics Contract and helps out students during the pandemic

At 3pm on February 2, 2021, an email abruptly materialized in university students and staff’s inboxes announcing that the administration was giving ASUO until 6:30pm to vote on a $1.7M athletics contract. The ASUO Executive Committee had cut a deal with the admin and there would be an open meeting in an hour at 4pm to discuss a proposal. The usual  plan was to guarantee students athletic event tickets with funding from the I-Fee budget. It felt like the entire school was sitting in front of their computers when that email landed, and at the subsequent Zoom meeting an hour later all hell broke loose. Activists, alumni, graduate students, former senators, and even faculty were there- everyone was pissed. Senate President Isaiah Boyd was on the spot, having just come out of a pressure cooker with admin, he was now getting grilled by representatives of half the student body. Other members of the executive committee tried to emphasize the contrived urgency of passing the deal by 6:30pm and were practically shouted down.

    In a year where there was no audience attendance for any athletic events, why was the administration focusing on a $1.7M ticket contract ASUO had with the athletics department? It was becoming nakedly obvious what the priorities were at UO, and the pandemic had opened the eyes of several senators to how problematic this situation was. The status-quo of an athletics giveaway in the I-Fee budget was being called into question by students. With intense concentrations of private Nike funding already flowing into athletics, why were students being asked to supplement tickets for sporting events?

    As the meeting played out and the heat turned up, the executive committee made a full reversal. The senate almost unanimously voted down the administration’s proposed deal that night, but everyone was bracing for a bigger fight yet to come. If President Schill didn’t approve ASUO’s budget, it would have to go before the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) in Salem. Many senators were hoping that, “This is going to the state level and it will turn into a larger conversation about student fee autonomy.”

As members of ASUO prepared for an ideological slug fest, suddenly Schill simply approved the budget. Although the students lost out on a longshot for comprehensive statewide I-Fee budget autonomy, they achieved a significant local victory that they quickly moved to utilize. Without the $1.7M athletics contract in their budget, ASUO brought together a walloping relief and assistance program for students during the pandemic. Some of this included a textbook and housing subsidy, a basic needs coordinator, and a $49 rebate to all students. One reform implemented was Legal Services being housed under a different entity that now allowed its legal advocacy to be used against the University. Suddenly the ASUO Executive Committee was singing a different tune, they had obviously taken a cue from the tenor of their constituency. Over the course of a couple of weeks the Executive Committee spearheaded the relief and reform package, but the admin and the Board of Trustees (BOT) had different ideas about how I-Fee money should be used.

    By signing off on ASUO’s budget, President Schill effectively shot himself in the foot and would now need to do a dance in front of the BOT in March. Hilariously, he tried to tack on a separate $2M ticket fee onto tuition. But his own rubber stamp TFAB committee informed him that this would violate the Guaranteed Tuition policy that he had rammed through last year. ASUO used the opportunity to issue a resolution against the tuition increase and in a 42-2 vote took the time to buttress their own budget autonomy. The articles in their resolution make very clear their position:

2.1 THEREFORE BE IT MOVED THAT the University Senate calls on UO Administration and the Board of Trustees to respect ASUO’s autonomy and authority over their own budget.

2.2 BE IT FURTHER MOVED THAT the University Senate supports the decision by the ASUO Student Senate to reject the proposals from the UO Administration that ASUO send a portion of the money they have saved as a result of not paying for tickets during the pandemic to UO’s Athletic Department, and to instead support basic needs programs and return money to students.

2.3 BE IT FINALLY MOVED THAT the University Senate opposes the new mandatory Athletics fee on students for the ticket lottery, and calls on President Schill to work with the Athletics Department to provide adequate funding for student tickets from the Athletic Department’s other sources of funding, or adopt a voluntary plan by which those students who want to attend intercollegiate sporting events can purchase a package of tickets from the Athletic Department for the student section at reduced prices.

    Then the faculty also came out against the proposal and pretty quickly Schill folded. The $2M tuition increase was scrapped. But then, like a magic money fairy, Schill found the money through licensing fees from Ducks merchandise and we can all rest easy as our university emails are spammed with Nike ads.

    When the March 8th Board of Trustees meeting came around, as it usually does in the middle of finals week, the Trustees were scandalized by the conduct of ASUO. They spent over an hour lauding the importance of giving poor students the opportunity to attend sports games they paid for without their consent. The dialogue turned to questions like, “how do we gain control over ASUO’s budget?” The BOT didn’t seem to realize that ASUO’s I-Fees were autonomous and were under the false impression that students were obligated to educate the BOT on the decisions they made for that money. The vitriol went round and round so much that eventually Schill’s axe-man Dr. Kevin Marbury had to step in and inform them that legally they had no power over that funding. In the end, the admin had to tuck their tail between their legs and the BOT begrudgingly voted to approve the I-Fee budget.

    What ASUO senators tell us is that it’s amazing that students were able stand up to the administration and see past the pressure being put on them by professional handlers. They listened to, and most of all responded to their constituency in the middle of a global crisis, instead of continuing buisness as usual. Though this wasn’t an ideological triumph, students played their hand extremely well and this goes to the core of the type of experiential learning that student groups are supposed to represent.

    Politics isn’t for everyone and many times doesn’t work for anyone, but it seems that the current cohort of Senators in power are tired of being played and have a good chance at retaining their incumbency through next year.

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