ASUC Senate places student technology fee referendum on ballot

Xuantong Wang/Staff
Access to Microsoft Office and the Adobe Creative Suite would be included in the $51-per-semester student fee.

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The ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday night to place a fee referendum on the spring ballot that would charge students $51 per semester to pay for software and technology initiatives.

The money from the Student Technology Fee Referendum — more than $3.6 million per year — could be used to continue contracts that provide Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office software to all students, as well as fund other student technology services. The referendum, established through Senate Bill 35, will be voted on during ASUC elections April 8 to 10 and, if passed, would be effective from fall 2014 through spring 2021.

In 2011, UC Berkeley paid for Creative Suite and Office for student use with one-time discretionary funds to last for two years, with the understanding that if the contract were to continue, students would need to pass a fee referendum.

Since the program was introduced, Office has been downloaded about 40,000 times and Creative Suite about 56,000, according to Benjamin Gold, the communications manager for the campus chief information officer.
“The number of downloads paints a fairly positive picture,” Gold said. “The true measure will be if the students vote the fee in.”

Some students, however, have cited concerns about the cost of the fee. UC Berkeley freshman Amrit Ayalur said he’s downloaded Office through the campus, and while the fee is “a good idea in theory,” he isn’t in favor of making people who wouldn’t use the software pay for it.

Should the referendum fail, neither Creative Suite nor Office — which can cost $1,900 and $400 for consumers respectively — will be available to students after August. Only a few other universities, such as Indiana University, offer these packages to all students.

“In the event that this fee doesn’t pass, I’m prepared to pressure the (campus) harder to find solutions in making the resources that this fee provides still accessible,” said ASUC President and bill sponsor DeeJay Pepito in an email.

The bill states that about $17 of the fee would be returned to financial aid to help offset the cost for eligible students, and up to $20 would be used for software packages like those from Adobe and Microsoft. The remaining sum would be used for other student technology initiatives such as a “technical skills training program,” as suggested by Pepito in an email.

UC Berkeley junior Greicko Almoite said his architecture classes require Creative Suite software. He said he wouldn’t be against the referendum but only if it went beyond just Adobe downloads.
CalSERVE Senator Caitlin Quinn said she felt students had the right to make the ultimate decision.

“I want students to think critically about these fees and start a larger conversation about what students should pay and what the (campus) should pay,” she said.

Contact Sahil Chinoy at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @sahilchinoy_dc.