UH graduate students still say ‘no’ to $50 fee increase, despite chancellor’s urging

Travis Quezon

HONOLULU—The University of Hawaii at Manoa in recent years has been at the forefront of the research vs. athletics debate. Major budget cuts to the campus have been compounded by a proposal to increase students’ fees to support the UH athletics program. Last year, the Association of Students at UH (ASUH) and the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) rejected the initial proposal of a fee increase made to the Board of Regents.

Today, graduate students reaffirmed their opposition to the proposed $50 semesterly fee—an increase of 22 percent—in a letter to the Board of Regents.

The latest version of the proposal put forward by UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw saw several changes such as offering financial aid to cover the fee, allowing free student admission to UH games, using five to eight percent of collected fees (about $160,000) to pay for student activities, and requiring the athletics department to host a free concert or event for students.

“The projected $2 million raised annually by this fee will clearly strengthen our UH athletic program’s ability to provide successful experiences for all our student-athletes, specifically through scholarships, travel, materials and supplies, and other expenses directly beneficial to student-athletes,” Hinshaw said in a statement last month. “This support is critically important in the area of gender equity, because most of our Wahine sports programs—our terrific softball team, for example—need such support to thrive, since such sports generate limited income.”

GSO members, however, said the chancellor’s changes were unnecessary and did not change the fact that fees added more burden to UH students who are already facing larger class sizes and a shortage of the classes they needed to graduate.

The university’s enrollment is at an all-time high: 58,157, the highest in the institution’s history. For the second year in a row, UH’s fall opening enrollment has experienced an increase after remaining at 50,000 for five years. UH Manoa is currently facing a $7.3 million cut to its operating budget in addition to a previous $66 million cut by the State.

In discussions at GSO’s recent general assembly, graduate students said there was a lack of transparency and fiscal accountability in the latest version of the proposal.

GSO members also questioned the chancellor’s priorities and vision for the university, given that lectureships and graduate assistantships have been drastically cut, and said that the fee increase would be redundant and wasteful since students already pay fees to organizations such as the Campus Center and Activities Office, GSO, and ASUH to fund student social activities. The graduate students also noted that there were “similarities between the chancellor’s proposal and the State Legislature’s recent proposals to subsidize a popular state program by hijacking graduate and undergraduate educational funds.”

GSO members suggested that the UH Manoa chancellor ask the broader Hawaii community for funds to ensure a viable UH student athletics program, rather than placing the burden solely on students.

Making the chancellor’s appeal to students that much harder, Hawaii blogger Ian Lind recently reported that gift disclosures filed with the State Ethics Commission show top university administrators have been getting free season tickets to sports of their choosing.

As university students find it harder to sign up for the classes they need and professors are pressured to deal with larger classes and less funding, the UH administration continues to face resistance from its growing student body, who refuse to further sacrifice their wallets for a shrinking place of learning.