UC Berkeley must fix Student Technology Fund referendum failure

UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS: The failure of the STF referendum should be UC Berkeley’s cue to pick up the tab.

Illustration of the student-funded apps being ripped from a computer
Armaan Mumtaz/Senior Staff

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If you’ve ever borrowed a laptop from campus, used Adobe Creative Cloud for a project or signed into class using your Zoom Pro account, you’ve benefited from the Student Technology Fund, or STF, fee, a $51 per semester fee that pays for a vast number of tech services UC Berkeley students enjoy. But we shouldn’t have taken these services for granted. 

Despite receiving a majority “yes” vote, the STF fee referendum failed, falling 0.9% short of a campus quorum requirement of 20%. Now, students are losing access to technology infrastructure, valuable software and tech equity programs.

Campus administration sent only a few campuswide emails about the election, none of which fully emphasized the stakes of the referendums. And in typical fashion, the ASUC election rapidly dissolved into various hearings and Twitter disputes. It’s no wonder the majority of students tuned out of campus politics.

While the importance of voting shouldn’t be understated, essential services shouldn’t disappear just because of the fine print. Students are now scrambling to figure out how they will access crucial online software for their studies and creative pursuits. 

Ballot referendums on crucial services just perpetuate instability and tech inequity. UC Berkeley must front the cost to provide digital infrastructure for its students, perhaps with the $807 million investment proposed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. These services should be something UC Berkeley students can count on. A “miscellaneous student fee” has been proposed as a temporary solution, but this doesn’t solve the greater issue of instability. 

The pandemic election exposed the deep-seated flaws of UC Berkeley’s approach to student tech access, and now students are facing a grim reality — barring rapid action from UC Berkeley, every student will begin to lose access to important programs starting in July. Campus must use its power to fix this.

UC Berkeley must first prioritize physical infrastructures such as laptop borrowing and hot spots — services previously provided by the Student Tech Equity Program, which received funding from the STF. The bottom line: Software access doesn’t matter if students don’t first have stable access to hardware.

Next, data infrastructures, such as Adobe Creative Cloud, MATLAB and Microsoft Office, must be provided. UC Berkeley can’t call itself a research institution if students are forced to pay out of pocket for the programs that make research possible. Undergraduate research positions often require beginner’s knowledge in programs such as MATLAB or Excel. Without those resources, research positions might only be offered to students who can afford expensive software. 

Not to mention, entire class curriculums will collapse in the absence of student tech access — among these are popular graphic design classes that rely on Adobe Illustrator, photography classes that teach Photoshop and Lightroom and STEM classes that use MATLAB.

It is absurd that students are expected to vote during a pandemic to secure materials crucial to their success. The failure of the STF referendum should be UC Berkeley’s cue to pick up the tab. Digital infrastructures such as Zoom should be offered the same permanency on UC Berkeley’s campus as the walls and roof of Dwinelle Hall or Doe Library.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the summer 2021 opinion editor, Sarah Siegel.