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San Diego State University might ultimately get $200 more from each student every semester if a proposed fee hike passes – but students are putting up a fight.

The new Student Success Fee would allow the school to hire tenured professors and bolster class sections. Students didn’t have a direct vote on whether to implement the fee, but they had indirect input in the form of an advisory committee vote.

The proposed fee was presented to students and faculty in a month-long series of 39 public forums in February. At the end of the presentations, the option to vote on a fee increase ranging from $0 to $500 per semester was given only to students.

But the SDSU student body, like San Diego as a whole, doesn’t have a great track record of showing up to vote.

Student opposition was quiet during the consultation process. But then a campus committee – made up elected student representatives, faculty and staff – endorsed a $200 fee increase that would serve as a recommendation to university President Elliot Hirshman.  And that’s when students started taking note – and getting mad.

A group of sign-wielding student protesters marched to the president’s office Feb. 28 following the advisory committee’s fee endorsement, objecting to what they said were biased presentations and an unrealistic proposal for students who are already suffering financially.

Since then, protest gatherings in front of the president’s office and the Aztec  Student Union have become regular on campus.

How would the fee work?

Every semester, SDSU students pay a total of $647 in mandatory fees. That’s slightly more than what the average CSU student pays. The fees currently go toward things like health services, the new Aztec Student Union, athletics and supporting student body organizations.

With the $200 increase, that would go up to $1,694 a year – more than a semester’s tuition for a part-time undergraduate student.

The increase would generate about $12.5 million a year, which would go toward hiring 80 new faculty members and adding 360 more classes every year.

The influx could help the university recover from the 238 faculty members and 1,000 course sections it lost thanks to $78 million in budget cuts since 2008. The university receives 13 percent less in state funding than it did back in 2008.

Here is how Greg Block, SDSU’s chief communications officer, explained the fee to The Daily Aztec back in February:

The fee would be implemented gradually during a four-year period … Though the fee increase will probably not directly affect most current SDSU students, Block said students should think about the next generation at SDSU.

(Update: Block says he was taken out of context by the Daily Aztec and that the fee increase will indeed impact most students, “as the hiring of faculty will begin immediately.”)

Now that Hirshman has the advisory committee’s recommendation, he can take an official stance. Block said the president is in favor of the fee.

Hirshman’s vote will serve as a recommendation to CSU Chancellor Timothy White, who will have the ultimate say on whether or not the fee will pass.

Although the fee was proposed to start next semester, Block said the president is in no rush to make a decision.

How effective were the open forums?

About 1,050 of SDSU’s roughly 30,000 students voted on the fee following the open forums. From those votes, 672 students were in favor of some level of the fee.

Those protesting the fee include the 36 percent who voted against it, and plenty of students who didn’t vote at all. Opponents of the fee say the low voter turnout renders moot the fact that a majority of student voters supported it.

But for those students who did attend the open forums, the presentations were persuasive. Here is what The Daily Aztec found when conducting informal polls outside of forums:

Before the forums, approximately 55 percent of students surveyed planned to vote for no fee increase. After learning about the reasoning behind the fee and what the funds could do for the university, that number dropped to 36 percent.

Unsurprisingly, a large number of the faculty and staff surveyed supported a fee increase of at least $400 per semester.

At the end of February, when the forums came to an end, the advisory committee recommended the $200 hike.

Why are students protesting?

Some students believe the open forum presentations were misleading.

“It was crucial to have the (open forum) process be unbiased and we feel it was not showing both sides,” said senior Jessika Seekatz, a women’s studies major.

The students’ who are protesting want to halt the proposed fee, set up a meeting with Hirshman to discuss their concerns and initiate a mandatory student vote for all future financial decisions.

“The president is working with A.S. President Josh Morse and his team, the democratically elected representatives of the student body, to consider issues and concerns associated with the proposed Student Success Fee,” Block said in a statement. “The president is interested in engaging in productive meetings with collaborative student groups.”

Hirshman has yet to schedule a meeting with student protesters to discuss their demands.

Clarification: An earlier version of this post said about 100 protesters marched to the university president’s office on Feb. 28. That number was culled from Daily Aztec reports and other accounts from the scene. Campus police, however, pegged the number at 45 protesters.

Ana Ceballos

Ana Ceballos is a reporting intern at Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ana.ceballos@voiceofsandiego.org...

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