The ASI Board of Directors unanimously approved the allocation of approximately $2 million, previously identified in savings, to ASI and university basic needs programs in its Oct. 8 meeting.
The 11-0 vote follows more than three weeks of student input into four fee relief options presented by the organization, and was reached during one of the board’s most discussion-filled meetings of the semester that presented members with clashing student opinion data and financial consideration of other California State University campuses.
Since Sept. 18, student government leaders have sought to gauge student opinion to inform their ultimate vote. While option one, basic needs program funding, proved to be widely supported in the two live community planning sessions, a survey emailed to all active students found a substantial majority supporting option three, a partial reimbursement of the fall semester’s facilities and operations fee.
Counting respondents in both the emailed and live session polls, 56% preferred option three, 27% preferred option one, 2% preferred option two: keeping the savings in ASI’s reserves, and 15% voted for option four: a hybrid of options one and two. Yet, the large discrepancy between student opinion at the live sessions and the emailed survey proved to be noteworthy for student leaders.
The emailed survey was attached to a module explaining the fee relief options presented at the two live sessions. However, both ASI President Lucy Yu and ASI Vice President Manshaan Singh acknowledged that respondents scrolling past the information without reading and voting was “a possibility.”
Even without that possibility, Yu explained that she ultimately decided to vote in favor of option one due to the dynamic of conversations she had with students who were initially in favor of the reimbursement option.
Yu said, “I found myself in multiple, different situations where I was in a one-on-one with students … and they came into the one-on-one and were very interested in option three and once I kind of explained to them the background and the timeline and the longevity of the option, all of a sudden I saw their mindset kind of switch.”
Harkening back to a conversation he had with The Poly Post about only going against student opinion when there was a good reason, Singh argued that the adverse effects that option three could pose for students who receive Cal Grant A or subsidized loans was indeed “a good reason.”
Option three also received outside criticism from executive directors of associated student organizations representing other CSU campuses.
During the meeting’s open forum, Dave Edwards, executive director for Associated Students, CSU Fullerton, voiced the concern of auxiliary organizations across the university system that Cal Poly Pomona’s ASI organization could set a damaging precedent by opting to provide a reimbursement of student fees amid a class-action lawsuit filed against the CSU that calls for mandatory fee refunds.
“The fee reduction or refund could have a devastating financial impact to many of our AS student union auxiliaries,” said Edwards. “To give you some context about where other student auxiliaries are sitting right now, you may not be aware, but your organization is in a currently unique situation in that you have $2 million is savings. That’s not the case for most of our sister campuses.”
Edwards added that should CPP’s ASI create the precedent that mandatory fees may be refunded, and refunds are provided systemwide, he foresaw many auxiliary organizations having to lay off staff, cut program funding and perhaps dissolve entirely.
In addition to Edwards, there were at least five other executive staff members from other CSU campuses’ associated student organizations present in the Zoom meeting.
Edwards’ open forum comments impacted the board’s discussions and even prompted a motion to delay the vote.
Inter-Hall Council Senator-At-Large Prabhat Jammalamadaka motioned to table the fee relief action item until the next board of directors meeting, with College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences Sen. Henry Lee seconding the motion. The motion ultimately failed with a vote of 3-8.
Jammalamadaka, who stated during the meeting that he was a supporter of option one, sought nonetheless to delay the vote to further research the impact that the board’s decision could have on other campuses were it to approve option three.
“I thought it was my job as a representative of the students at Cal Poly Pomona to actually get all the information on every other option that we have,” said Jammalamadaka.
Explaining why he opted against the motion to delay the vote, Singh said wanting to receive further input from other campuses on how it would affect them was not a “good enough reason to delay the vote,” adding that he and Yu contacted other student leaders and informed them of the options before the board.
With option one passed, the board’s next steps involve deciding the amount of funds allocated across several ASI and university-operated basic needs programs. This process would involve a mid-year budget reallocation — an unprecedented step for ASI.
For Jammalamadaka, the main priority when allocating these funds will be for students to receive money via grants and scholarships, noting that the U.S. government’s COVID-19 relief bill did not allow undocumented or international students to receive federal funds. He also listed food insecurity, technological access and housing insecurity as other issues he wished to combat with the funds.
In the two weeks leading up to the board’s next meeting, the earliest that they can begin discussion on program allocation, student leaders see receiving more student input as a necessity.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 22. The agenda, minutes and Zoom link for previous and upcoming board of directors’ meetings can be found here.
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