UTRGV Admin fails to disclose important detail about new athletics fee law, as students vote
Updated: Nov 9
By Jonathan Salinas
S.B. 1467 gives UT regents the power to raise athletics fees without student consent, if said increase is less than ten percent. An email by the Dean of Students, Rebecca Gadson, demonstrated fee-increase requests are approved by regents. Therefore UTRGV administrators possess the power de facto to raise athletics fees, as well.
In general, the law is billed to address "student fees imposed by the university, and to the elimination of certain obsolete statutory references." Implications for student union fees and students services were also written-in. But first, athletics.
SECTION 5. Section 54.551 (d), of the law, allows the board of regents to "impose on each student enrolled at" UTRGV "an intercollegiate athletics fee in an amount not to exceed $15 per semester credit hour for each regular semester or summer session, unless the amount is increased as provided by Subsection (d)."
What does subsection "d" say?
"(d) The fee authorized by this section may not be increased by more than 10 percent from one academic year to the next unless the increase has been approved by a majority vote of those students participating in a general student election held at the institution and called for that purpose." [Emphasis my own. - J.S.]
Therefore, assuming the state legislature follows the formal rules of logic and the English language, the fee authorized by S.B. 1467 (currently $15) may increase by 10 percent or less without a majority vote of students. This fact has never been disclosed by administrators, to our knowledge, nor reported by any media outlet until now.
Dean of Students Rebecca Gadson referenced the law in a campus-wide email to students, earlier this semester. She said,
"The university examined our current fee structure and determined that separating student activities and intercollegiate athletics would increase transparency for how the fees are allocated. The university requested to restructure the Student Service Fee and received approval by the Texas Legislature through Senate Bill 1467 and the University of Texas System Board of Regents."
Gadson went on to ensure students the "restructure is (sic) REVENUE NEUTRAL and WILL NOT increase the overall cost to students."
Adding, "Starting Fall 2021, $15 per credit hour historically allocated to our athletics department out of the Student Services Fee will be placed into a separate Intercollegiate Athletics Fee.
The "restructure," Gadson said, would allow UTRGV to provide "increased transparency with regards to fees, funding that is focused on student programs and activities, an opportunity for future grow [sic] of athletics."
Two charts followed, showing "fees before" and "fees after." The latter lists "student services fee" at $20.83 per credit hour. The former lists "student services fee" at $5.83 per credit hour," and "intercollegiate athletics fee" at $15 per credit hour."
As can be inferred from Gadson's email, regents are rather receptive to administration's requests for things like "restructuring" fees. Intercollegiate athletics fees before 2021 were not "transparently" disclosed, by Gadson's own admission. Therefore while students believed to be paying $20.83 per credit hour for "student services," they were actually only paying $5.83 without knowing the rest was going towards athletics.
This is standard to form at American universities. An investigative news piece published by NBC in 2016 found that "college students are paying a rising cost, sometimes thousands of dollars, to support athletic programs — fees that don't always appear on their tuition bills."
Katelyn Waltemyer, a junior at James Madison University in Virginia at the time, found that buried in each student's yearly cost of almost $23,000 was a required fee of $2,340, solely to finance the school's sports teams. The money was not for using the gym nor funding student clubs and activities, what some might call "campus life." No, the fee was only for underwriting the costs of athletic teams, about which a student could only find out by visiting and searching the school's website.
Waltemyer was not at all happy about it. She told NBC, ""For someone who doesn't care a whole lot about athletics, it seems a bit much for me to have to contribute. I have two jobs. I'm a full-time student. And I'm paying for athletes' scholarships? To me, that hurt." She echoes UTRGV Edinburg's Bruno Rosales' touching dissent at a football referendum town hall event in October.
NBC found universities are not required to disclose how much they charge students for sports teams. Natalia Abrams, executive director of the Student Debt Crisis, an advocacy group that works to reduce student debt, said of this, "It's by design that they're not being transparent because they know that it's not right. It's incredibly deceptive to bundle it that way," noting that when students pay for these fees with student loans, they end up paying even more as those debts accrue interest. This flattens the argument made by some UTRGV referendum apologists who say "the proposed fee increase isn't that much!"
Obtaining such info, in general, is not easy. For example, NBC filed public records requests in all 50 states for every public university playing Division I sports. NCAA guidelines require Division I schools to report their athletic department's revenues and expenses each year. Public college records, like UTRGV, are subject to freedom of information laws. To determine how much the schools charge each individual student, NBC contacted each public Division I university. Eight declined to disclose the exact amount they bill students, "despite repeated requests."
UTRGV separated athletics fees from student services because they anticipated and hoped for launching college football, as documented months before the law was even introduced. Knowing a fee increase would come, it had to be made certain that only athletics could benefit and nothing else. And so the fact had to be revealed that for years, students believed they were paying $20 a semester per credit hour for services that actually served their interests. This was not the case.
Moreover the language of SB 1467, authored by State Senator Chuy Hinojosa and Congressman Eddie Canales and signed by Governor Abbott in April, allows regents/administration to raise "intercollegiate athletics fees" by ten percent or less without a student vote. The negative phrasing in the bill makes the stipulation sound confusing, but that may be intentional. The reason there's a "referendum" happening right now is only because the fee increase administrators and regents want is "more than ten percent."
If the referendum fails, UTRGV can still raise athletics fees but just less than would've been the case had it passed. It would only take UTRGV a few more years to raise athletics fees to the levels pertinent for football. By that time, many currently voting will be graduated or indebted-out, or both, but many of the ambitious administrators and their loyal bureaucracy who work in the "student life" department and Greek life sections on campus, will still be enjoying cushy salaries for doing nothing, and continue enjoying free tickets and other perks like university sporting events, while you figure out how to pay your loans. For these reasons, the referendum should be shut down even harder.
Echoing the cries of black students at Howard University, a historically Black college and university in Washington D.C. whose are also fighting back against unconscionable living conditions for students and rising costs of fees, Juan Antonio Almaguer leader of a bourgeoning movement on campus he's called the "V's Down, Fists up!"* movement, has made flyers and graphics exclaiming demands like, "Enough is enough" "Academics, Jobs, Abolish Debt," and freedom of expression. Howard has also adopted the defense of free expression, as their all black board, who they call "the black bourgeoisie," as we might call the local Latino capitalist class "the brown bourgeoisie," threaten to forcefully evict them for a camp-in protest going on for weeks, the longest in U.S. history.
One scandal (siphoning the vast majority of "student service" fees towards athletics for at least a few years, without disclosing that) was concealed by another scandal (being that administrators, with regents, may raise athletics fees without a "majority student vote"). On top of all this, the latter detail was not disclosed by admin before students took to vote this morning on increasing athletics fees for football. Anyone who continues saying "voting 'yes' will improve student life!" is, thus, not just encouraging a generational injustice against the future, they're also slapping in the face those who've already graduated, many with debt, who thought their university was serving them well.
Graphics designed by Juan Antonio Almaguer, graphic design student at UTRGV.
*Pompous administrators, staff and student "leaders" fancy saying, "Vs Up!" followed by the forming of a V-shape with one's index and middle finger as if making a peace sign.