The University of Oregon Senate — a governance body made up of faculty, students and others in the university community — voted Wednesday to support the student government’s recent decision to discontinue an agreement with the UO Athletics Department, which required students to pay a fee to receive tickets to sporting events.
In its resolution, the Senate also opposed a proposed plan from the Athletics Department to create a new mandatory student fee for game tickets, though that plan could still be greenlit by the university’s Board of Trustees next month.
This comes as broader conversations of student government autonomy and transparency around mandatory fees have continued at other Oregon universities, and in Salem at the legislative level.
The Associated Students of the University of Oregon, or ASUO, earlier this year voted to discontinue its more than $1.7 million student tickets agreement with the UO Athletics department — an agreement which required students to pay fees each term for access to games, regardless of whether they chose to attend them.
That money is part of the “incidental fee,” roughly $17 million collected from students that’s budgeted by ASUO to a variety of programs, events and contracts.
Instead of the Athletics agreement, the student government has moved to reallocate that money to programs supporting student needs including free menstrual products and textbook subsidies.
According to the university, the agreement between ASUO and the Athletics Department has been in place since 1987.
“One of the things that’s really principal in this resolution is showing support for what we’ve done,” ASUO President Isaiah Boyd told OPB about the Senate’s vote Wednesday. “There hasn’t been applause from the administration or members across campus for what we’re doing. … My hope is this resolution starts to show the university administration that we do have support. What we’re doing is needed.”
Working with student needs in mind
“We really wanted to center equity and inclusion in the work we were doing,” said Annika Mayne, Chair of ASUO’s Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee — the committee that initially made the decision to discontinue the Athletics agreement.
Mayne said under that agreement, students were charged $25.50 per term, not including the summer, for access to tickets for games. But, that fee does not provide students unlimited access, particularly when it comes to two of the most popular Pac-12 sports.
“[E]very student is paying this fee, but all it gets you is entering into the lottery to get tickets to those football and men’s basketball games,” Mayne said.
For sports like baseball, volleyball and women’s basketball, students only need to sign up online for a student ticket, and show their student ID. But to attend a football or men’s basketball game students are entered into a “lottery” for anywhere from around 2,000 to around 6,000 tickets, according to the agreement.
“You’re paying for something you’re not even assured to get, and I really think that’s the big dividing factor,” Mayne said.
Members of ASUO said it made more sense to put that money toward services that all students can access.
For nearly half of UO students, they’re paying for an opportunity they never pursue. According to data from the university, shared in the resolution passed by the UO Senate Wednesday, historically 45% of UO students do not attend a single intercollegiate athletics event in a given year.
The student ticket agreement was only a fraction of the total student incidental fee, currently totalling about $17 million, or about $270 a term for students.
With those student dollars, ASUO funds other programs and services including a child care program, Mayne said. Other services and programs funded by the incidental fee include Sexual Assault Support Services, student legal services and student-led publications.
“Everyone’s paying for those, and not everyone may be using them, but you always have the opportunity to access them,” she said. “No one has to enter a lottery to have their kid go to child care.”
The roughly $1.7 million from the UO Athletics agreement will go to multiple student needs-based programs, with equity and student services in mind, according to ASUO President Boyd.
Boyd called it a “team effort” with ASUO Senate President Claire O’Connor, playing a key role.
The programs include: free menstrual product availability throughout the university’s student union building, textbook subsidies, emergency housing subsidies and needs coordinator positions to help students navigate applying to benefits like SNAP.
ASUO also plans to use the Athletics agreement funding to raise student employees’ wages to $15 per hour. Boyd said ASUO is in legal discussions with the university’s administration over that.
“I think the root at all of these programs is accessibility,” Boyd said. “Where are there areas of inaccessbility in higher education? Where are there discrepancies in just basic-need access for students? How can we make the higher education pursuit more affordable for students?”
Boyd said initially ASUO received a lot of negative responses about the reallocation of funding from various members of the campus community.
“One of the things that kept me grounded in it all was if we compare it at its face value — tickets over programs that support students? What do we value?” Boyd said.
Because ASUO’s budgeting process is for the next fiscal year, it will not officially have the funds from the discontinued Athletics agreement until July 1. But Boyd said, the student government hopes to start some of the programs immediately with available surplus funds.
Mayne also noted that the $1.7 million collected from students this year for the student tickets has been returned to ASUO’s budget, since in-person sporting events aren’t currently happening during the pandemic. She said students can expect refunds.
UO Athletics Department looks for other funding sources
In response to ASUO’s decision to discontinue the student ticket agreement, the UO Athletics Department has proposed a new mandatory student ticket fee — separate from the student government’s jurisdiction, on an administrative level.
If approved, that new fee would be $29.50 for each regular school term, and it would only be charged to incoming students. That limitation relates to UO’s Oregon Guarantee program, which locks in administratively-controlled mandatory fees and tuition for each new class of undergraduate students for a period of five years.
“The new proposed fee would continue to provide incoming students with free access to most athletic events, as well as a number of football and basketball tickets,” UO President Michael Schill said in a message to the campus community. “If implemented, athletics would work with the Division of Student Life to determine how best to manage access to UO athletic events for current undergraduate and graduate students who would not be charged the new fee.”
Schill asked the campus community earlier this month for feedback on the UO Athletics Department’s newly proposed plan. It came at the same time Schill shared a proposal from the university’s Tuition and Fee Advisory Board to increase undergraduate tuition by 3% for incoming out-of-state students and 4.5% for incoming resident students.
The university said Schill plans to discuss his own recommendations with the UO Board of Trustees at meetings next month.
“You take money from someone, they’re going to try to make up what they’ve lost,” Boyd with ASUO said. “And I think this new mandatory fee is the university doing very much that.”
Conversations over transparency in Salem, suggesting alternatives in Eugene
Discussions are continuing at UO about student fees, and potential alternatives to them, in regards to student sports tickets. At the same time, broader conversations are taking place in Salem during the current legislative session over transparency for mandatory student fees, including a bill backed by the student advocacy nonprofit, Oregon Student Association
If passed, House Bill 2542 would require every Oregon public university and college to prominently display the mandatory fees charged to students.
“With the vocal opposition we are hearing from UO students regarding the U of O’s attempts to levy a new fee on students in order to fund an athletics department which has been criticized for lack of financial transparency for over a decade at this point, this proposed new fee at the University of Oregon is a good example of what HB 2542 aims to address,” OSA’s Executive Director Andrew Rogers said in a statement.
As part of the UO Senate’s resolution Wednesday, the Senate explicitly opposed the Athletics Department’s proposed mandatory fee. It also called on UO President Schill to work with the department to identify other funding sources, or to adopt a voluntary plan for students interested in attending games.
Mayne with ASUO’s Athletics and Contracts Finance Committee said she thinks a university that collected nearly $300 million in contributions and in-kind donations to its athletics department last year should be able to provide tickets to students without this fee.
An alternative, Mayne said, could be looking to what other universities are doing, which members of ASUO have researched. She said for example, the University of Alabama, home to the perennial football powerhouse Crimson Tide, has a program that has students opt-in to buy tickets to football games. Student advocates suggest the Ducks could try something similar.