The V.O.I.C.E. Initiative in the context of student fees for Intercollegiate Athletics

The lively debate engendered by the student fee referendum on the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative to keep The Daily Californian’s presses rolling raises an interesting question: Why such a fervor over $2 per semester for maintaining an accessible source for relevant news, information and debate of campus issues when this is but a tiny fraction of the fees that students currently pay to enable Intercollegiate Athletics to overspend what it generates?

One answer is that few students are even aware that they are personally paying to prop up IA every year. The program has cost the campus $88.4 million from 2003 to 2011, of which $17.8 million came directly from student fees. For decades, UC policy stated that IA must be self-supporting — the same requirement that is imposed on various ancillary campus enterprises such as parking and student housing. But after the campus violated the policy every year for many years, the University of California Office of the President quietly rescinded the long-standing policy on Dec. 16, 2010, thereby authorizing IA to use student fees and other campus funds.

It may be of interest to recall that the ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill in November 2009 recommending that the UC Berkeley administration stop using student fees to help fund IA; however, the bill was subsequently vetoed by the then-President of the ASUC.

The largest portion of the Student Services Fee funds the University Health Service and the second largest portion of the fee is allocated to IA. Recreational Sports is provided with only about one third of the amount that IA receives from this fee, even though Recreational Sports serves all 35,000 students, whereas IA’s facilities are restricted to about 850 athletes. Therefore, in allocating this fee, the campus is supporting Recreational Sports with an amount per student that is less than 1 percent of the amount per athlete that it is providing to IA.

To be specific, in 2010-11, the campus provided IA with $2.26 million from the Student Services Fee; this works out to about $65 from each and every student.

The campus provides IA with the student fees for it to spend however it pleases. But the bottom line, quite literally, is that IA overspends what it generates and relies on these student fees as well as other campus funds to bail it out every year. Since money is fungible, any $2 million reduction in IA spending could correspond to the elimination of student fees supporting IA.

One particular notion is intriguing as a Gedankenexperiment: The campus provides IA with roughly $2 million in student fees, and IA pays the head football and men’s basketball coaches together roughly $4 million a year (IA records show that private donations accounted for 1-2 percent of the compensation of the head football coach and 3-5 percent of the compensation of the head basketball coach from 2009 to 2011). Imagine instead that the students were not providing these funds, and the coaches’ annual earnings were lower by the amount of the student fees. In this scenario, IA could pay the two coaches about $1 million each, which would still keep them as the only members of the exclusive million-dollar club on the Berkeley campus. Among the thousands of faculty, staff and administrators on the Berkeley campus, there is no one else earning anywhere close to this. All the Nobel Laureates on campus combined earn only a fraction of what each of the coaches is paid.

Perhaps contemplating paying $2 a semester to maintain the student newspaper takes on a different light in the context of every student on campus already personally paying an annual fee of $65 to effectively enable IA to pay a second million dollars each per year to the football coach and basketball coach.

Brian Barsky is a professor of computer science and vision science at UC Berkeley.