Student Senate votes in favor of tuition hike

Story by Breann Schossow

Danielle Ryan

After hearing about Student Senate’s decision to pass a resolution in support of the Blugold Commitment Tuesday, junior Molly Gerber said she and her roommate were upset because they both opposed it.

“We thought that it wasn’t going to pass with the vote being so strongly against it (the campus-wide survey),” she said.

According to survey results, 69 percent of the 3,665 respondents voted against the Blugold Commitment, citing the tuition increase of $1,500 and financial assistance amount of 40 percent as reasons for voting no.

After more than five hours of debate, Student Senate voted 17-15, with an amendment to modify the tuition increase to $1,200 over four years with 40 percent financial aid.

Senators spent the majority of their meeting debating how to interpret last week’s “skewed” campus-wide student survey results and whether reducing the dollar amount and financial aid percentage would be a sufficient compromise.

It is likely that the Blugold Commitment will be presented to the UW System Board of Regents at their February meeting, Student Body President Michael Umhoefer said.

Umhoefer said he was concerned that senators would look at the survey results and immediately vote down the Blugold Commitment in any form or amend the increase below $1,000.

“That would be just as detrimental as voting it down,” he said. “I felt that was not a direction that we should go.”

Gerber said she knew about the tuition increase early in the process, hearing about it from her roommate, who is a member of the Resident Hall Association.

“I tried really hard to keep myself informed and to tell other people, because, early on, I noticed that not many people knew about it,” she said. After learning about the vote, she said she decided to create the Facebook group, “UWEC Students in Favor of Having Their Voices Heard” because she wanted to see if there were other people upset by the results with the senate’s vote.

Gerber said she created the group around 3 p.m. on Tuesday. As of press deadline, more than 900 people had already joined.

“I was shocked,” she said about the number of members. “Our campus has seemed pretty … apathetic about the senate affairs and all their decisions, but I think it says that there’s a large number of students who are actually very interested and concerned about decisions that the school makes.”

Gerber said she knows a lot of members joined because they’re anti-Blugold Commitment, but that’s not why she created it. Instead, Gerber said it has become a public forum for debate, with people on both sides that joined and senators explaining their votes.

“It turned out to be a way more interesting thing than I thought it was going to be,” she said.

Umhoefer said it was unfortunate that senate was unable to negotiate a middle ground on financial assistance, citing it as a polarizing issue and the cause for the close vote. During the meeting, senators named assistance amounts such as 30 and 35 percent as alternate options.

“There were groups of students on both sides – 30 and 40 percent – that said they supported (the Blugold Commitment) but wouldn’t vote it unless it was the number that they wanted,” Umhoefer said.

Sen. Jake Johnson disagrees with Umhoefer that the financial aid discussion caused such a divisive vote.

“It was about people wanting more specific information, more follow through,” Johnson said.

The Blugold Commitment doesn’t offer tangible solutions to the problems the university has, Johnson said. His problem with the proposal is its lack of specific goals.

“It’s a large program, and if we don’t even have basic general ideas, how can we vote in favor of it?” he said, in an interview after the vote.

At the regent’s presentation in February, Umhoefer said the board will likely request to hear from students on both sides of the debate and there is time for open comments during the meeting.

But now that Student Senate has approved the Blugold Commitment, Johnson said, senate needs to continue to play an active role by getting specific information about the program’s goals.

Johnson said he’s upset by the senate vote, adding they let down the student body.

“We took their opinion and said that we don’t really have to follow it if we don’t want to.”

On the other hand, Umhoefer said students had an opportunity to voice their opinions and voted against it, which was taken into consideration by the senators.

“Senate decided that a $1,200 amount was something that they could support and felt that it took the concerns of students, from the survey and modified the proposal to accommodate them.”

– David Taintor contributed to this story.