Leaked Email Spurs D-I Debate

A.S. Vice President of External Affairs Samer Naji admitted to showing a letter, supposedly written by a student athlete, to students before it was leaked to Facebook. The letter, which began circulating Wednesday night, alleges collaborative efforts between A.S. Council and the Athletics Department towards securing the Division I referendum vote. 

The referendum was approved by Vice Chancellor Penny Rue Feb. 2 and first passed by A.S. Council during Week 3.  

“If students are doing this alone, it’s fine,” Naji said of the letter. “If campus administration was trying to skew the vote, there’s a big problem with that and I think that’s something worth looking at.”

Naji said he first saw the letter posted in A.S. Council’s private Facebook group. According to Naji, an unnamed A.S. councilmember received the letter and then decided to share it with A.S. Council. 

“I don’t think there was the willingness of A.S. [Council] to look into administrative influence on the election, so I figured students should look at it,” Naji said. 

Naji, who ran as a member of A.S. President Alyssa Wing’s “Board the Wing” party, said he does not support a move to Division I sports because of the potential effects of added student fees.  

“Personally, as a student, I am against the move to Division I right now, just because I don’t think a lot of people can afford that fee,” Naji said. “When the economic situation gets better, I think we should consider it.”

A.S. Council will enact a neutral education campaign starting today through the voting period. According to Wing, the A.S. election committee decided to expedite its education campaign in a response to student inquiry and last week’s leaked letter. 

The election committee, which is composed of representatives from each of the six colleges, will work with the advocate general to educate students on the special election and the referendum itself. 

“That message that was ‘leaked’ was completely unaffiliated with A.S. Council, or anyone who is involved with any campaign or the athletics department,” Wing said. 

Wing said she did not try to keep the letter private, but said she wanted to investigate it before bringing it to the student body’s attention.

“The VP External decided to go public with it and started publicizing all over Facebook,” Wing said. “That’s where there’s definitely miscommunication. The conversation with the VP External wasn’t don’t publicize it, but was let’s actually figure out if this message has merit before we release it. For the sake of our association and the legitimacy of our body, we shouldn’t go without knowing the facts.”

Wing said she has been speaking with members of the athletics department to ensure the election remains democratic.

“I’ve been speaking with athletics to make sure they aren’t doing anything that’s against the rules to violate procedures of fair and free election, and to make sure it is driven by students and not administrators,” Wing said. ”I’ve heard from many athletes that they are appalled that someone would write something like that.”

 Approximately 110 students have responded to the Division I debate by organizing a Facebook group called “UCSD Students Against the D-I Referendum.”

Thurgood Marshall College senior Kevin Quirolo, who drafted “D-I: Not Now” for the Facebook group, said that current efforts to inform students about the referendum have been the main response.

“I don’t think [the letter is] representative of A.S. [Council] or athletics necessarily,” Quirolo said. “It’s just really hard to really say how authentic it is, who really wrote it, or what their interests were. I’m just trying to ignore it. It doesn’t have to do with whether I should vote for something.”

Quirolo said that although there has not been an organized effort against Division I yet, students are focusing on getting information and educating others on the potential effects of the referendum.

“I’ve talked to two people who are athletes who supported D-I,” Quirolo said. “But when they started looking into it more and asking themselves what entailed in this particular referendum, they changed their minds about it. For me, it says it’s an issue of how much information people have.”

According to a March 2011 university feasibility study by Athletics Staffing & Consultants, UCSD would need to increase the athletics budget by approximately $12 million in order to be competitive in the Big West Conference. 

The study recommends for the university to find new sources of funding; such as institutional support, out-of-state tuition waivers, a new student assessment and game guarantees. Guarantees are money paid by other universities in exchange for UCSD teams to play at their campus.

Both Quirolo and Naji said student awareness of the referendum is the most important issue.

“I think not enough people even know there’s going to be a vote on this issue,” Naji said. “As of now, I just thought it would be good for students to see the letter and what’s in the background.”

Wing said last week’s events are evident of general misinformation on the referendum and hopes that the educational campaign will help students make informed votes.

“Our strategy is to increase voter turnout, not to impede on the fair and free election process,” Wing said. “We want to make the election go smoothly, that the new election code is followed and that students have the information necessary to make an educated vote.”

Voting on the Division I referendum will begin Monday, Feb. 27 and continue until Friday, March 9.

Athletic Director Earl Edwards and AVP of Athletic Relations Aurora Lopez could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Readers can contact Nicole Chan at [email protected].

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