Campus, ASUC officials spar over technology fee, transparency

Photo of a browser with tabs: bCourses, bMail and Zoom
Charlene Wang/Staff
ASUC senators and campus administrators expressed differing viewpoints on proposals for student technology fees.

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Campus administration has proposed a $139 per semester fee to fund student technology, drawing criticism from ASUC officials who say the process is not transparent and that campus funds should be used instead.

The Instructional Resilience and Enhancement Fee, or IREF, would provide for instructional technology and software licenses beginning in the 2022-23 school year, according to Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Jenn Stringer.

“In many instances, software is as vital to instruction as textbooks,” said Oliver O’Reilly, interim vice provost for undergraduate education, in an email. “The fee would allow us to lower costs and increase access to this software.”

According to Stringer, the IREF comes in response to new remote instructional needs brought about by the pandemic and wildfires. She added the IREF would fund services formerly provided by the $51 per semester Student Technology Fund, or STF, fee. The STF expired last year following a failed referendum to renew it.

ASUC Senator Jason Dones wrote an open letter to campus administration signed by almost every ASUC senator condemning IREF. He and other ASUC officials have proposed their own replacement for the STF that would charge students $35 per semester. Dones suggested that much of it should be funded by campus funds, instead of IREF student funds.

Stringer noted the new STF would not provide for campuswide software, focusing instead on “smaller scale projects.”

“It’s not about students not having access to resources,” Dones said. “The question is: Should students be paying even more than all of that, or should it come out of this tuition, which is already increasing next year, or should it come out of state funding?”

Microsoft and Adobe products are essential to a majority of students and should be funded by campus, whereas less frequently used products such as MATLAB and Mathematica should be funded by specific departments, Dones said. The previous STF helped pay for Microsoft, Adobe and MATLAB licenses, and the new IREF will pay for them.

Dones added the campus would also use IREF funds to fund bCourses, Gmail and other services that had previously been funded by campus. He contends that these services are “entirely necessary” for all students and that students should not be charged for their use of the services.

“Every single student on campus needs to have bCourses in order to engage in any of their classes in any way,” Dones said.

On funding, O’Reilly noted state funding and tuition models have not been responsive to the changing role of technology in teaching.

Opponents also contended that the process being used for the IREF has a lack of transparency.

The typical process for campus-based student fees involves a series of “checks and balances” that includes approval in an ASUC referendum, according to ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President and Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Student Services and Fees co-chair James Weichert. He noted campus is unusually treating the IREF as a campus materials and services fee, allowing it to use a process with limited accountability to students.

“Regardless of what students do, regardless of what students want, the chancellor has the final say,” Weichert said. “Students have fought long and hard over decades to get the sort of safeguards and accountability measures that we have, and this basically is trying to weave around that.”

According to Dones, course materials and services fees are typically used for specific needs in particular courses, not for campus-wide services. O’Reilly noted course materials and services fees are for instructional costs not covered by state funds, citing examples of four other UC campuses that have course materials fees that cover instructional technology.

As for student accountability, O’Reilly said in the email that campus is receiving student input through focus groups and the campuswide Pulse survey. He added campus is considering the creation of an IREF advisory committee which would include student representation.

“My goal is that students have a voice as to what fees are assessed,” Dones said. “Very basically, I think that if you’re going to charge students any amount of money, whether it’s two cents or $200, students should have input.”

Gabe Classon is a schools and communities reporter. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @gabeclasson.