Beaver Athletics holds town hall for student government

ASOSU Senator Andrew Damitio was part of the athletic fees mediation process in 2016, and believes that progress has been made in the relationship between athletics and the student body. 

Joe Wolf, ASOSU Beat Reporter

Department promises flat fee, conversations around student tickets continue.

Leading up to this year’s student fee process, representatives from the Oregon State University Athletics Department presided over an open forum for members of the Associated Students of OSU Student Fee Committee and both chambers of Congress. 

The informational meeting began with remarks from Peter Schwartz, the chair of the SFC, who led the body last year during a contentious discussion around the Athletics fee level. Schwartz summarized the events of the previous fee-setting process, in which the budget level went through a mediation committee after being voted down in the ASOSU House, amid concerns of the rate that students pay compared to its value. 

Schwartz was followed by Scott Barnes, OSU’s vice president and director of Intercollegiate Athletics, who proposed a flat fee—no increase from the level decided last year, which students pay as part of their student fees this year.

Athletics receives $38.86 per student per term to cover student tickets and is one of 10 campus organizations funded by fees assessed by the SFC and approved by the ASOSU House, Senate and President.

The event, held on Nov. 2 in the Memorial Union saw questions from the student legislators as the Athletics Department presented some of their findings. According to Zack Lassiter, the deputy director for external operations in Athletics, more than 16,000 unique students have attended athletic events since the online ticket claiming system was put in place last fall.

“The three things that the current model does is it gives the students the best seats, at the most affordable price and it gives the greatest access to the most amount of students,” Lassiter said.

According to Andrew Damitio, an ASOSU Senator who was part of the mediation process last year, while the model for student tickets has not been adjusted as he wanted, he feels the Athletics Department has become more transparent and built trust between the groups. 

“(Last year) everybody wanted to cut student fees, particularly when we realized that there were thousands of tickets not being sold, but we did not quite realize exactly how complex the entire process was,” Damitio said. 

One of the department’s main goals is to build the partnership between Athletics and students beyond the transaction of student fees for tickets, according to Lassiter.

“I think a lot of students came here tonight articulated that they understand that it is larger than that, that there is a lot of questions on how student tickets work, and is there another model out there that another Pac-12 school or another school should use that would be more beneficial or be something that more students would want,” Lassiter said.

For Alex Luther, the liaison for Athletics on the SFC, entering the fee process for the first time this year without first-hand knowledge of the conversations that took place last spring, the active dialogue at the open forum between different viewpoints was important to take into consideration. 

“Before, I was told the facts of what happened and now it was a really good experience to be able to hear from students directly about their experience through the mediation and working group last year,” Luther said.

According to Damitio, his concerns regarding the Athletics fee are based on philosophical disagreements with the department on the purpose of college athletics, but over time, he has become less adamant in his thinking. 

“In a way, nobody wins in a values debate,” Damitio said. “You have got some people who are very well-intentioned who think that the Athletic fee really helps bolster school pride and really provides good externalities for students, and then there is also people who say, ‘If we cut that, we could help students who are struggling to get by.’”

Luther says, she was not involved with Athletics last year except as a Beaver fan who appreciated the access that the current model provides. The support of OSU students for Athletics, even when the teams themselves are not succeeding, stood out to her.

“It is important to me to be able to provide the best model possible for students,” Luther said. “The ability, as Peter mentioned during the discussion, to have 9,000 students in one location all focused on the same thing, all rooting for the same thing at the exact same time, those experiences are really hard to come by. That is how you build community, that is how we create retention, that is how we create a kind of university like Oregon State.”

When formal presentations to the SFC begin on Nov. 19, representatives of the Athletics Department including Barnes and Luther will attempt to specify the scope of the relationship between Athletics and the students beyond just tickets, according to Lassiter.

Schwartz, who acted as a mediator during the proceedings, was happy to add context to the conversation and welcomed other student fee-funded units interested in holding similar informational meetings.

“I think folks on both sides had more developed arguments,” Schwartz said in an email. “I know that both groups spent the summer doing additional research and further educating themselves on the issue. As a result I thought the conversation was much more productive and that information which was more valuable relative to last year’s conversation was shared by both sides.”

According to Luther, she expects continued conversations as the student fee-setting process heats up, understanding that there will be conflicting opinions and values being debated.

“We have a bit more information of what we need to present,” Luther said. “When we do our joint session, knowing what students want to hear and knowing what Congress wants to hear allows us an opportunity to be able to research that information. Seeing an opportunity of saying these are exactly where fees are going and this is how they support students with retention, community, camaraderie and as we start to build what those portfolios look like, it is really important.”

Earlier this term, Damitio introduced a resolution in the Senate that would, if passed, have expressed to the SIFC and Athletics Department the body’s intent to automatically reject any budget increases. After hearing that Athletics intends to request the same fee level as last year, he will be pulling the legislation, according to Damitio.

“It might be a better idea to address student fee increases in other ways, for example, ASOSU senators and representatives like myself should attend the SFC meetings, hear the rationales for the spending and look at fee funded groups beyond just Athletics,” Damitio said.

According to Lassiter, he was encouraged by the dialogue between the student decision-makers and the department.

“I thought everyone was very respectful and very thoughtful,” Lassiter said. “That does not surprise me, I think that is who we are at Oregon State.”