It has been more than three years since the inception of the Student Union Initiative saga — during which students have endured systematic deception, incredible theft and blatant infringements on the jurisdiction over their segregated fees — and not once has the good side come out ahead. Every effort made to uphold student democracy and defend accessibility to this university has failed. The student voice has been bruised and then battered, while our pocketbooks have turned emptier and then empty. Ultimately, the valiant efforts of countless and diverse students proved to be too little, too late or both, and now the powerful Wisconsin Union appears destined to get away with it all.
But as last week’s commenter astutely observed, opposition to the Union’s plans will never disappear so long as there remains an ounce of hope for even a semblance of justice. If nothing else, the student body will be able to say, at the end of the day, we put up a good fight — and in that, there is something.
In the spring of 2006, the Wisconsin Union Directorate placed a referendum on the Associated Students of Madison ballot that gave the students the power to vote on whether to increase their segregated fees by up to $96 a semester for the next 30 years to fund the construction of a new union in place of Union South and “renovate” the Memorial Union.
In response to the Initiative, a diverse coalition of students and student organizations — most notably the Student Labor Action Coalition — organized a “vote no” campaign to defeat the unprecedented increase in segregated fees for which the project would be responsible. The coalition included class-conscious progressives, fiscal conservatives and apolitical students who simply did not want to pay almost $200 a year for such a proposal. Among the opponents of the Initiative were then ASM Chair Eric Varney, who was quoted in the Herald at the time as saying, “At the cost of $96 a [semester] to students, this is ridiculous.”
For most of the referendum’s opponents, Union South was an irrelevancy that few had regular contact with after their freshman orientation. The center of campus life is elsewhere, especially with the construction of the new Student Activities Center. Dolling out several hundred dollars for a new union throughout one’s time at college struck many then, just as it strikes me and many others now, as utter lunacy and a complete waste of money.
Unsurprisingly, students rejected this proposal twice during the spring semester of 2006 with record voter turnout. The Union spent countless amounts of (student-subsidized) money on its pro-Initiative propaganda, but common sense prevailed in the end. But due to technical glitches in the online voting system, both votes were invalidated despite the fact the uncounted ballots would not have affected the outcome of the election in either case. The third vote, held in the spring of 2006, utilized a paper ballot that witnessed only a 6 percent student turnout. This time, the Initiative passed by a small margin. One thousand six hundred ninety-one students mandated more than a generation of future students finance a new union for almost $800 during their four-year stay at the UW-Madison campus.
While the illegitimacy of this process speaks for itself, the complicity of our student government in this fraudulent business requires a word or two. While most ASM leaders will spout the usual talking points about the problems with the Initiative, including the election process by which it passed, the organization has never taken a proactive stance against it. The failures of ASM are common knowledge by now, but its lack of support for students in this instance — even if it only ended up symbolic — is an utter disgrace. This year, both the Student Council and SSFC had prime opportunities to stand up for their constituents in their battle against the powerful Wisconsin Union, but the do-nothing mentality that plagues the current membership of ASM proved too strong in the end.
Still, hope endures. The few ASM members committed to student empowerment over their r�sum�s are planning to place a referendum on the April ASM ballot to recommend a reduction in the student contribution to the project by half until the new Union is completed. If this project is inevitable — if the Union really has succeeded in disenfranchising students for this unwholesome endeavor — then, at the very least, students should be cut a break until this new facility is constructed. For students in agreement, spread the word about the real nature of this project, tell everyone you know about the new referendum and contact your lackluster ASM representatives demanding they finally do their job and take a stand on behalf of student rights.
Kyle Szarzynski ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in spanish and history.