SG passes tuition referendum despite opposition

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Student body president Natalie Butler and other student government representatives listen to liberal arts representative John Lawler argue against an amendment to the legislation for a campus wide tuition referendum. Members of Occupy UT came to support the referendum initiative, which passed Wednesday evening at the SG assembly.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Students will be able to voice their opinions on tuition increases and funding cuts during the campus-wide general election in March after a Student Government vote Tuesday night.

It is the first such referendum in SG history. The nonbinding referendum is essentially a poll that will form the official SG position on tuition and budgeting. In addition to electing officers for SG and other campus organizations, there will be two questions on the electronic ballot asking students if they support proposed tuition increases and if they would accept cuts to a wide variety of university services and programs.

Student voters would have the opportunity to respond to the questions with “yes,” “no” or that they do not wish to respond.

Liberal arts representative John Lawler introduced the legislation last week and said the opposition to the initiative came from student leaders involved in the tuition conversation who felt their efforts in the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee and the College Tuition And Budget Advisory Committees might be undermined with the referendum.

“In no way shape or form am I attempting to undermine those efforts,” said Lawler, an urban studies senior. “I really think this referendum will be a healthy addition to the things like TPAC and CTBAC that have already happened on campus.”

Although student body President Natalie Butler supported the increase in the TPAC recommendation last fall, many members of SG as well as members from Occupy UT said the voices of the few did not represent the voices of the entire student body.

Butler said although she is not a fan of the referendum, she hoped students would educate themselves on the budget and understand the reasons why there has to be an increase.

Wielding a long sheet of butcher paper filled with dozens of signatures, members of Occupy UT spoke out in support of the referendum.

About 30 Occupy UT members supported creating an official SG stance on the proposed tuition increases President William Powers Jr. put forth in January ­— 2.6 percent each year for two years for in-state students, and 3.6 percent for graduate and out-of-state students. The assembly passed the initiative with a majority vote and the support of Occupy UT.

Adrian Orozco, anthropology junior and Occupy UT member, said this is the first time Occupy UT has engaged in the avenues of student input provided to them by the UT administration. Orozco said future cooperation between Occupy UT and SG depended on the tone of meeting.

“Occupy UT has been trying to use the avenues the University has suggested in order to reach them,” Orozco said. “I hope our presence made a difference in the way they voted tonight.”

Lawler said he met with student leaders on Sunday and they expressed concern students would not have the time toreview the budget material or simply would not understand it. He said the referendum would include educational materials for students to educate themselves on the budget before casting their vote.

Finance sophomore John Roberts opposed the initiative because he said setting tuition is a very complicated process and student involvement via TPAC and CTPAC would be undermined with the referendum. Roberts also said it was already a challenge to get students out to vote in the elections, and this referendum could make the process more difficult.

“Even if we just have 100 people come out and vote we still have to take that to the regents and tell them this is what 50,000 students had to say,” Robert said.

In a Jan. 13 interview with The Daily Texan, Powers said there is robust student involvement via TPAC, CTBACs and the student legislative bodies, contrary to allegations from Occupy UT that the administration did not listen to them.

“No proposal can come to my office without student involvement,” Powers said in the interview. “No aggregate tuition can come to the system without a robust TPAC. While we work with other student groups, there are some groups who just do not want to talk about this.”