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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

ASUA Senator and Byrne go to bat over potential new athletics fee

Arizona Athletics is currently exploring a potential new $200 student athletics fee that would be charged yearly to every incoming student.

“We’re still early on in the process, but we are exploring a fee that will go to benefit major overhaul of the infrastructure of Arizona Stadium,” said Greg Byrne, director of athletics. “There are parts of Arizona Stadium that are over 90 years old that we have to replace.”

As they move forward, their goal is for this to be a group effort, and that this fee would be complemented with fundraising from donors and season ticket holders.

“We believe Arizona Stadium and Arizona football is very much a shining star of our campus,” Byrne said. “It’s a place where our entire community comes together, and it’s something that our community, our university, our students and our student-athletes take pride in.”

Byrne emphasized that no current student would have to pay the fee, only incoming students, because Arizona Athletics felt that it wouldn’t be right to charge current students.

So far, Byrne said that they have received mixed feedback and are still at the information-gathering point in their process. He noted that it is important to them to be transparent throughout this entire process.

Joe Zanoni, Assosiated Students of the University of Arizona senator and political science senior, said he questions where the transparency has been, and thinks the fee’s exploratory process has been extremely flawed.

“I know nothing has been proposed yet, but the discussion that has been taking place without student input is not a discussion at all, but has the troubling appearance of a backroom deal,” he said.

Zanoni has been asking for answers and information since before winter break, but says that ASUA president Manny Felix has not only left the senate in the dark, but the students as well.

“Having campaigned on outreach and more transparency, I need to deliver, especially since there’s a new $200 fee being discussed that no one knows about,” Zanoni said.

After voicing his concerns at last week’s senate meeting, Zanoni has formed a senate committee that aims at demanding transparency in exploration of the fee and including students in the discussion.

“I want to focus on the process: get me a proposal of why you need this fee and why other avenues can’t be used, or if [Byrne] even explored other avenues,” Zanoni said. “There might be drastic things that need to be repaired, but why haven’t we heard about them? Given what we know now, it doesn’t look like an attractive investment for students. That might change once we have the full conversation.”

Currently eight out of the 10 public universities in the Pac-12 Conference have a student athletics fee, with the University of Washington and the UA being the only ones who don’t and Arizona State University implementing a fee just last year.

“Just because someone’s doing something doesn’t mean you should. I don’t see the need for an athletics fee,” Zanoni said. “I get we have faced budget cuts, but using students as a source of revenue for a fee that would impact very few doesn’t seem like a justified fee.”

Byrne said they’re still working through the details on how to handle graduate students, but seven of the eight public schools that have student fees for athletics have the graduate students pay for it as well.

Sarah Netherton, Graduate and Professional Student Council president, said Byrne has met with the GPSC and heard its opinions on the fee. The GPSC suggested a staggered fee or a fee waiver based on income levels, since this would increase mandatory graduate student fees by 20 percent.

“We have talked about how we can make this feasible and not put all the burden on the students. There isn’t a hard proposal yet, so we’re talking about what can be mutually beneficial, if that’s possible,” Netherton said.

The GPSC put out a survey on the fee roughly two weeks ago, and have since received about 1,200 responses.

Of the responses, 85 percent were opposed, while 15 percent said they were neutral or in favor of the fee, according to Netherton.

“Athletics adds value, but primarily to the undergraduate experience — graduate students are so busy and so broke,” Netherton said.

According to Byrne, the athletics fee would replace the current ZonaZoo membership fee. That way, incoming students who pay it would get an automatic ZonaZoo membership. Byrne also stated that current students — who would be exempt from the new fee — would still have the option of buying a ZonaZoo membership.

Zanoni said the idea of making it so the whole student body has some sort of access to ZonaZoo is unrealistic, and that regardless, this is still an enormous burden for students who already have trouble paying tuition and living costs.

He went on to say that it is deeply troubling that the students are being looked at as a source of funding for such a rich entity.

“Why should students pay $200 to a department that ranks 21st in the nation in revenue? They made a whopping $99 million [in revenue] in 2014 — $7.9 million of that the UA funded,” Zanoni said. “If you do the math of $200 per student, that would be roughly equivalent to $8.4 million, so why should students pay more than the university funds?”

Ultimately, this potential fee would have to be supported by President Ann Weaver Hart and then proposed to the Arizona Board of Regents.

Senior vice president of Academic Affairs and Provost Andrew Comrie said via email that the board establishes a single deadline for all tuition and fee requests from all three universities to be submitted each year, and that this year’s deadline is March 4.

“We hope for some direction this spring,” Byrne said. “If implemented, there would be a student advisory group that would help us prioritize where the money is spent in the Arizona Stadium to benefit the students, and we would audit everything on an annual basis, to make sure students know that 100 percent of the money is being used on what we said it’s being used for.”


Follow Chastity Laskey on Twitter.


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