A Letter to the Union…

If you’re buying a car, but don’t have the money, you don’t buy the car and get all the upgrades regardless. You look for a different way to meet your transportation needs, perhaps a vehicle with less frills, better gas mileage, or one you can afford. We are experiencing this car buying problem with the student union, the funds required to continue to operate are not available and changes must be made. There was a spring ballot item polling the student population regarding a campus wide student fee for the union, so that it could continue to offer services, and perhaps upgrade them. There was also a push to enroll on-campus students into a meal plan, this too was rebuffed. Clearly, the student population was not interested in paying more for services offered in the union. Why then do we have a fee? Further, why are we assessing that fee to non-voting, non-represented, and primarily non-entrepreneurial organizations?

Perhaps we should first talk about purpose. What is the purpose of this fee? Resolutely nebulous, the fee seems to be an attempt to undercut a democratic system, to secretively find an easy fix to a financial problem, to pass the problem on, essentially to fail but not until tomorrow. The answers that I’ve read to why these fees should be assessed range from a want to improve to a want to rectify a failed borrowing scheme. Perhaps we should simply aim to balance the budget. In any case, honest to corrupt, it is clear that there is a need to address The Union’s financial problems by reducing programs and services, assessing fees, or both. Unfortunately, I believe you need to do more than simply give it attention. We need to find a way in which you can provide services and programs for students while still maintaining your budget and if that is not feasible, you unfortunately need to reduce the number of services and programs you offer. With a substantial, sustainable, and highly visible reduction in services and programs, students would be more willing to move forward with a purposeful campus wide, above board, productive and necessary fee and secretive and manipulative fee structures could be avoided.

Understanding what a purposeful fee looks like, next we must engage ourselves to find the purpose of the student union. Easily enough, the student union has a mission statement. It reads:

“The Arizona Student Unions through its associated facilities, programs and services balances the diverse educational, recreational, cultural and social needs of the University of Arizona community and its visitors.…” (The remainder can be found in Appendix A)

This is both noble and necessary. However, I believe that our union is moving away from the balance it strives to achieve and is reaching past the needs of the University of Arizona community and into extravagance. Wonderfully, the union offers a highly comprehensive book store, a large variety of dinning, a bank, travel service, saloon, grocery, post office, music store, testing center, movie theatre, arcade, computer lab, studies, lounges, conference rooms and the grandiose ball room, student government offices, and of course the offices of the student union, CSIL and Career Services, and perhaps more. We boast one of the largest unions in the United States, we house the bell to the USS Arizona as well as a memorial room. There is wireless internet, though patchy, through out the entire union, and parts of The Union stay open through the early morning. The union is large, the union is impressive, but the union is indeed in a financially failing state and much of what the union offers, much of what is mentioned here, does little to balance needs, it merely provides a luxurious variety, a variety which is expendable compared to affordable education, according to the spring student vote, and expendable in comparison to balance according to the union’s mission statement.

Further, the union mimics services found in the campus and local community and thus such redundancies should be differed to alternatives elsewhere in the community until the union is financially sound. The Student Unions should not be looking for ways to fulfill their quest to become a sweeping goliath of services, widespread and ineffective, but rather take advice from a past UA president and “focus the excellence,” providing students a modest yet quality means to meet their needs, nothing more.

The Student Union’s purpose is to meet the needs of the community and visitors, a feat that I feel can be accomplished without a number of, apparently debilitating, redundant, and fiscally negligent, offered programs and services.

What then is the purpose of campus organizations?

Many campus organizations have mission statements, however they are diverse and vary in quality, but they tend to share a similar drive. Campus organizations, as I am aware, are a means for students, faculty, and staff to come together to enhance their academic experience. To learn from one another, to provide forums to discuss relevant topics, to create safe environments for peer education, to allow for social interaction within the academic setting, to give networking opportunities, and to practice skills that either meets us within our discipline or allow for exploration outside our disciplines.

Clubs have a number of purposes, and one almost globally inapplicable primary purpose would be that of fundraising. I know of no club on campus that was formed for the exclusive purpose of earning money. Further, clubs register with the IRS as Not For Profit Organizations, they make a federal claim that their purpose is to not raise capitol for the purpose of personal profit. Therefore I believe that to expect any organization to pay a fee, no matter how negligible, in order to receive recognition by the University in order to create an accessible, diverse, and prosperous campus community, a fee to be paid in order to allow access to campus resources, is wholly ignorant, ill-mannered, and irresponsible. Perhaps I should share some experiences so that you have an unambiguous image to reflect upon.

There are two very different and very unique clubs on campus, both of which, as far as I am aware, have no alternate. The Arizona Surfers and The Associated Student Enthusiasts of Wei Qi, the Game GO, and Connect Four. Despite the difficulty reading through names, the clubs purposes are all quite simple. The Arizona Surfers provides students the opportunity to come together and interact with other surfers and connects more than 250 individuals on campus with each other. The second provides students the opportunity to interact with individuals on campus to participate in the Chinese game Wei Qi, or GO, among other titles, and connects no more than 20 individuals. Despite differences in club purpose and size, these organizations are fundamentally the same in that neither organization would have ever sought association through the school had there been a barrier to recognition, a fee preventing access to university services, a fee preventing scholarship, philanthropy, culture, diversity, and interaction. Regardless of personal opinion as to the relevance of these clubs to the academic mission of the school, neither of these organizations raise profits, neither of these organizations have a large fundraising team, and neither organization is wondering what to do with their funds or their time – they have goals and objectives and, like all organizations on campus, their purpose is to utilize their resources to achieve those goals and objectives.

If we are to move forward in life, it’s important to weigh all things, to assess damage that we might provoke, and to think about opportunity cost. In this instance we need to acknowledge the level of operation the union needs to operate at, the degree of fiscal responsibility that needs to be utilized by policy makers, and the cost and benefit to campus organizations, and to student life in general, with the implementation and structuring of such an attempt to provide services. We need to ask the question, is this necessary? To contemplate a world with a little less in exchange for a little more, perhaps then we’d reach a reasonable pace of development and a more acceptable style of financial management. Most importantly we need to provide services that students want. If students are unwilling to pay for these services, departments are unwilling, and the state is unwilling – well, I guess we can’t get that brand new Porsche like you wanted, instead let’s look into buying a bike from Target and see where that gets us.

Finally, I like Mr. Adams statement found on the webpage:

“The entire Union staff is committed to offering all of our guests quality products, friendly service, and a comfortable environment. Your constructive comments and suggestions will receive our attention.”

I hope my comments receive more than attention, I hope they receive deep contemplation and the student union fee receive yet another thorough review. Thank you for your time – I believe we can resolve both the club fee issue and deeper rooted union fiscal management problem. Please continue to keep the campus community involved in your decisions and we’ll continue to do our best to support and respect the process.

Sincerely,

John Patrick Mizell


Appendix A: The Union Mission

The Arizona Student Unions through its associated facilities, programs and services balances the diverse educational, recreational, cultural and social needs of the University of Arizona community and its visitors. The Unions embody the University’s mission in six areas:

1. We nourish the mind, body and spirit of the University community by creating environments where people are supported through quality programs, dining, retail and support services.

2. We empower students to participate in self-directed activities and governance by providing employment and volunteer experiences with a progression of leadership and management opportunities.

3. We embrace the University community by creating programs and services that celebrate and respect individual differences.

4. We promote interaction among members of the University community by providing common facilities and collaborative programs throughout campus.

5. We provide state-of-the-art information & communication resources which enhance effectiveness of services and programs to internal and external customers.

6. We explore possibilities for making academics and leisure activities cooperative factors in a student-centered university. We provide resources that successfully facilitate the practical application of academic concepts and we make available to everyone cultural, recreational and social opportunities.

The Role of the College Union

Adopted by the Association of College Unions International’s general membership in 1996, this statement is based on the “1956 Role of the College Union statement.”

“The union is the community center of the college, serving students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests. By whatever form or name, a college union is an organization offering a variety of programs, activities, services, and facilities that, when taken together, represent a well-considered plan for the community life of the college.”

The union is an integral part of the educational mission of the college.

1. As the center of the college community life, the union complements the academic experience through an extensive variety of cultural, social, and recreational programs. These programs provide the opportunity to balance course work and free time as cooperative factors in education.

2. The union is a student-centered organization that values participatory decision making.

3. Through volunteerism, its boards, committees, and student employment, the union offers first hand experience in citizenship and educates students in leadership, social responsibility, and values.

4. In all its processes, the union encourages self-directed activity, giving maximum opportunity for self-realization and for growth in individual, social competency and group effectiveness. The union’s goal is the development of persons as well as intellects. Traditionally considered the “hearthstone” or “living room” of the campus, today’s unions are gathering places of the college. The unions provide services and conveniences that members of the college community need in their daily lives and creates an environment for getting to know and understand others through formal and informal associations. The unions serve as unifying forces that honors each individual and values diversity. The unions foster a sense of community that cultivates enduring loyalty to the college.