University Centers Fee Hike: Another Year, Another Threat

The University Centers Advisory Board has reintroduced to A.S. Council a resolution that, if passed, would create a $5 quarterly increase to the University Centers fee, raising it to $81.50. But university departments should look to student pocketbooks as the last resort, not the first stop in a plan to maintain the service of choice.

A 2010 Facilities Condition Analysis revealed that over the next 10 years, the University Centers (Price Center, the Student Center and Che Café) will require an additional $6.4 million in general maintenance, repairs and operational costs. And according to University Centers Director Paul Terzino, the consequences of not passing a referendum will be dire: charging students and orgs for using equipment and meeting rooms; facility resources and spaces will deteriorate; hours of operation will be reduced.

Terzino says UCEN needs the funds because UCSD has seen a sharp decrease in both student enrollment and state funding.

So, as with all other causes, the need is there. But it isn’t urgent— Terzino also notes that, without a fee increase, we won’t actually be in the red until the 2015-16 academic year. In addition, UCEN has $3 million in reserves, a million more than Terzino says is necessary. Neither Terzino nor UCAB is “panicking yet.” In fact, they’re not panicking so much that UCAB hasn’t even discussed what the first cuts to PC will be, or specific numbers.

Until it’s clear what, specifically, is at stake — which, despite claims to the contrary, not even Terzino seems to know — this board doesn’t see sufficient cause for alarm.

This is hardly the first time in recent memory that a campus department has made unfounded threats. Last year, when the proposed Parking and Transportation referendum was on the table, Director of Parking & Transportation Services Brian d’Autremont threatened the council that the Arriba and Nobel shuttles would be cut if the referendum didn’t pass. Here we are, a year after the referendum’s failure, and the friendly blue-and-whites are still chugging away.

Last year, this same UCEN fee was proposed, but failed when the Grad Student Association shot it down due to “bad timing.” There is, of course, never a good time to raise fees — which is why a new student fee should be the last resort, and only an option when all others have been exhausted.

Instead of looking to the students for an annual bail-out, UCAB should look to its other profit-making sector: Price Center vendors. According to Terzino, the PC vendors are on 10-year leases that include a base cost that’s already adjusted annually for inflation.

Because the leases are staggered, every few years a new vendor will be up to renew theirs. At that point, UCAB should evaluate the opportunity to raise the vendors’ rent.

While Terzino warned that raising the rent on vendors might force them to raise their prices — a cost that will be transferred to the students — passing a referendum will not raise costs only on the students that use PC, but on the entire campus. And in the end, we’d prefer to leave the costs in the hands of those who actually use the centers, rather than stick every member of the student body with a fattened TritonLink bill.