In the April 22 issue of The Mass Media, in response to the previous week’s announcement of the passing of a ballot referendum regarding a new fee to further subsidize MBTA passes, an anonymous author stated that, “a ‘meager’ 0.016 percent (258 students) voted yes in favor of the $20 per semester non-waivable fee.” While it is entirely true that voter turnout in the 2019 Undergraduate Student Government (USG) elections was abysmal, we do not hear complaints about the validity of the newly elected Student Body President and Vice President, Student Trustee, or Senators.
Allow me to take a moment to point out some errors in the responding author’s calculations. According to the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning, the Fall 2018 enrollment of undergraduate students at the University of Massachusetts Boston was 12,714. This number is a bit off from the 16,000 that the author claimed. So, while the overall voter turnout was low (only 3.87 percent of students logged on to UMBeInvolved and participated), the referendum was passed by just over 2 percent of the undergraduate population. Even if the number of undergraduate students was 16,000, 258 students would be 1.6 percent of the student population, not 0.016 percent as the author erroneously claimed.
The author also seems to have questions regarding any surpluses that may remain in the UMass Boston MBTA Subsidy Fund; they need only look as far as the text of the referendum itself. The referendum clearly states, “At the end of each academic year, pass sales will be collated, and the subsidy will be adjusted based on the number of sales any amount remaining in the fund. The subsidy will not drop below 50 percent.”
The answer to the question is clear, any remaining funds would be used increase the subsidy in following semesters. Funds could also be “rolled over” to increase the overall number of passes that could be sold at this increased discount. The fear of the university “sitting on money” can be put aside.
I would also like to touch on the author’s claim that, “The fee is … completely unnecessary … considering an $11.50 fee did not pass … for a student activities fee that would benefit all students.” To say that one fee is unnecessary because another did not pass is ignorant at best, and asinine thereafter. It is unfortunate that the student activities fee increase did not pass, as it would have carried many benefits for students; but, at the end of the day, students had to decide whether to pass the two referenda before them. Ultimately, they chose to support one and not the other. It would be a careless extrapolation to say that the student activities fee increase did not pass because the MBTA fee was successful.
Another bold claim made by the author in their response was, “the way it stands, the majority of students are unhappy with this referendum question being passed.” I have an incredibly difficult time believing that the author has been personally approached or contacted by 6,358 undergraduate students (half of the students enrolled per my earlier source, plus one) with complaints about the referendum.
The author also goes on to claim that the voting was “unfair,” but how can a vote be unfair simply because students could not be bothered to pick up their mobile phone or log on to a computer to cast their ballots, when the process was made as accessible and easy as possible? If anything, attempts to overturn this referendum is unfair to the students who were motivated enough to participate in the election. These students took advantage of an opportunity to make their voices heard, and the author is suggesting punishing them because their fellow students refused to participate.
If, as the author claims, the “majority of students are unhappy with this referendum question being passed,” where is the public outcry? Where are the demonstrations against the referendum? The article announcing the passing of the referendum two issues ago publicly declared that the campus Green Party chapter was behind its creation, and yet neither of the chapter’s co-chairs have been contacted at the time of publication by any students regarding the referendum and knows of no other chapter officials that have either. It seems the author is being dishonest about this mysteriously silent “majority” of students who oppose the referendum, and I call their bluff.
The USG elections were broadly advertised on campus, along with social media accounts for USG, UMass Boston, and several university student organizations and clubs. The candidates campaigned and even hosted a “Meet the Candidates” night at the food court in the East Residence Hall, where undergraduate students had the opportunity to ask the candidates questions. A UMass Green Party representative was present for questions regarding the referendum.
In addition, the USG election ballot was emailed directly to every single undergraduate student enrolled at UMass Boston, and there was a four-day window in which students had the opportunity to make their grievances about the referendum known with their vote. The elections committee was even giving students coupons for free donuts from the Dunkin’ Donuts in the Campus Center in exchange for voting in the elections. In the end, only 492 students participated in the election that has direct effects on them.
The MBTA referendum was approved in a legitimate election. The only thing left for the ballot referendum to become “law” is to be approved by the Board of Trustees. As of this time, I have no knowledge of the Board overturning democratically decided-upon action referenda from the student body. Instead of attempting to obstruct the democratic process, the author may wish to consider using their seemingly personal frustration that the question passed and funnel it into activating the student body for a repeal of or edits to the referendum in the 2020 USG elections. Alternatively, they may wish to work with the university to expand the fee to cover subsidies on parking passes or adding bikes to campus to placate their desire to see even more sustainable efforts on campus. Any student is permitted to draft a ballot referendum and submit it to be considered for the ballot.
As the author stated in their previous email, you may be receiving a poll in your email inbox regarding the ballot referendum. Please be advised that this poll is not a second vote, and that responding to it will not have any direct effect on the outcome of the election. Only the Board of Trustees are able to refuse the will of the students. For the sake of the democratic process I would ask that if you choose to participate in the poll, you stand in solidarity with legitimate elections. At this time, no campus Green Party official has been given access to the poll, and it still remains unclear who ordered the poll be created or why only one of the items on the ballot is being polled.
To avoid further obstructions of legitimate democratic processes in the future, I admonish you to participate in the next Undergraduate Student Government elections when they come around next spring. These elections are important, and they have direct effects on you as students of this university. Run for student Senate. Run for Student Trustee. Run for President. Craft and submit ballot referenda that you believe will improve the lives of students on campus.
If you do not speak, others will speak for you. In this case, it appears that, even when you do speak, others will attempt to speak over you. Let us not allow a precedent to be set on this campus where our elections can be questioned and obstructed by those who may have personal remonstrances to elections because they did not get their way.