United Council vote ongoing

Story by Frank F. Pellegrino

Yesterday and today, UW-Eau Claire students will vote on a referendum deciding whether they will renew their membership with the United Council of UW Students.

The mission of United Council, according to their website, is, “to represent all students of the UW System and advocate for them on issues of higher education pertaining to value, quality and the student experience.”

United Council has been in existence since 1960 and Eau Claire has been a member since 1971, senior Dylan Jambrek and Vice-President of United Council, said.

Eau Claire is one of 21 United Council member campuses that comprises 150,000 UW System students, according to their website.

With hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding being cut from higher education, Jambrek said an organization that advocates for students is essential today.

“I think Blugolds have seen their university hit by what’s happening in the state,” Jambrek said. “We’ve seen our tuition go up and up 5.5 percent annually, and if there is ever a time that we need people in Madison working on our behalf, it’s right now.”

Student Senate Vice President Mark Morgan said he appreciates the idea of a statewide student-lobbying group, but the 5.5 percent tuition increases the last two years show how ineffective United Council has been at achieving their goals.

“It’s really tough for me to see what successes have come from United Council, and I think more often than not, they’ve been counter-productive to what we want to achieve,” Morgan said. “Clearly I don’t think the results of what we pay that organization to do have been achieved.”

United Council used to charge a fee of $2 per student per semester, but after much debate among student government leaders around the state, it was decided to increase the fee to $3, Jambrek said. The fee had to be approved by the Board of Regents and will increase the total amount paid by Eau Claire students from about $45,000 to around $70,000, he said.

Jambrek stressed that this payment is not a lump sum from the university, and that students can get their individual money back if they choose. However, Jambrek added that he thought the price was a bargain for students who wouldn’t otherwise have their voices heard at the capital.

“Three dollars doesn’t buy you a lot, but it apparently will buy you a really powerful voice at the capital and with the Regents,” Jambrek said. “So if you want to compare cost value, I think that United Council squeezes a lot out of the $3 we get from students at UW-Eau Claire.”

Morgan agreed that $3 wouldn’t place a huge burden on any particular student, but that he would prefer students be required to ‘opt-in’ to United Council, instead of being forced to ‘opt-out’ after the fact.

The argument that United Council has been ineffective was hard for Jambrek to understand because of the things they have accomplished in the last few years.

He said last spring they were instrumental in fighting against the proposed split of the UW System. And in 2002, he said there was a statewide campaign by the organization to link financial aid to tuition increases so that all students could better afford school.

Morgan said he thinks the Eau Claire student body and Student Senate would be more than capable of advocating for themselves, since the university already has, “a lot of their stuff in order.”

He said because of that, a lot of the United Council funding goes to projects that don’t benefit Eau Claire, like developing two-year campus’ student-governments and trying to get other four-year campuses to join or re-join.

“That ultimately represents a transfer of funds from students at UW-Eau Claire to subsidize developing the governments at two-year colleges,” Morgan said.

Student Senate approved the referendum vote in a Sept. 19 bill, which stated there would be an annual referendum about renewing membership to United Council. In the bill, it said that, “ … Student Senate at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire fully supports and encourages continued membership in the United Council of UW Students.”

Eau Claire students received an email ballot Wednesday that will allow them to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the referendum. Voting will close at 7 p.m. today.