Won’t get fooled again

Apr 052007
Authors: Seth Anthony

Seth Anthony

The Rocky Mountain Collegian

Back in the fall of 2005, CSU was abuzz about Referendum C, the ballot measure designed to bring in additional state revenue. Just about everyone made dire predictions about what might happen if Colorado voters didn’t approve billions of dollars in new spending.

CSU President Larry Penley, in his 2005 Fall Address to the university, told us students that if Referendum C failed the result would be a “30 to 50 percent” jump in undergraduate tuition.

The obvious implication was that students should vote for Referendum C in order to forestall massive tuition hikes, but we should have listened more closely. What we weren’t told was that, even after Referendum C passed, administrators would still act to increase tuition bills by nearly 50 percent.

Students found this out last week when, without informing the student body, Penley and his lobbyists came within hours of slipping a last-minute tuition increase into the state budget.

Had Penley not attempted an end-run around student input, he probably would have gotten his way in the legislature. Had he approached the leaders of Associated Students of CSU months ago, he probably could have gotten the student government to back a phased tuition increase, complete with student leaders lobbying the legislature in support.

Instead, he was shut down by the Colorado Senate and earned our ire through his blatant disregard for the input and interests of the student body.

Many students voted for Referendum C with the belief that, once it passed, these massive tuition increases wouldn’t be necessary. The question I’ve heard over and over from students this past week is “What happened to the money from Referendum C?”

I spent several hours visiting university offices unsuccessfully trying to track down this information – it has to exist, because Penley referred to the way it was distributed in his 2006 Fall Address – but neither the Office of the President, the Office of Budgets and Institutional Analysis, or the Office of Public Relations could quickly lay their hands on it.

President Penley: As students and taxpayers, you owe it to us to publicly lay out where every penny of the $17 million from Referendum C went before you even think about asking us for $35 million of our money.

As students, we only have the tools of public and media pressure to hold Penley accountable for his actions. The legislators who assisted him in trying to raise tuition without our involvement, though, we can hold accountable on election day, especially Fort Collins Sen. Bob Bacon, who introduced the measure on the Senate floor.

Bacon, first elected in 2004, campaigned on a platform of supporting higher education. We learned this week what his “support” actually means for students: sudden, massive increases in tuition bills and less involvement in the decision-making process.

I’ve met Bacon; he’s a smart and savvy legislator. He knows the right way to go about a tuition increase is to involve students in the process. By doing Penley’s bidding, Bacon either willfully or negligently supported an end run around students, harming the student body and the university’s public image.

Bacon will be up for re-election in 2008, and come Election Day he should face the consequences of what he did last week. He shouldn’t be allowed to forget that there are 24,000 students in his district who deserve full representation and a seat at the table.

Bacon is a Democrat and he needs to be faced both in his party primary and in the general election with challengers who will consistently stand up for all of us, rather than merely pay lip service to students and follow the instructions of university administrators. Voters will then have a real opportunity to evaluate his actions for themselves.

Until then, whether it’s a tax increase, a tuition increase or a candidate, be skeptical of anyone or anything that claims to support higher education but doesn’t provide details.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry masters student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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