Utah State University students gathered at The Quad on Thursday afternoon to protest the potential defunding of Aggie Blue Bikes as a result of new student fee proposals.
Protest organizer Carter Moore told The Herald Journal the protest focused on positive messages opposing the “horrible idea” of cutting funding to the bike program. An estimated 50 people with chants and signage protested outside the Old Main building a few hours prior to a USU Student Fee Board meeting where the fee proposals were presented.
“It irks me,” Moore said. “Mobility is essential, Blue Bikes is essential and a $2.78 fee provides hugely important services to vulnerable populations.”
Moore, a USU senior studying Journalism and Communications, said renting an Aggie Blue Bike was an important part of his freshman year on campus. For a time he even worked as a bike mechanic for the program and amassed the money to buy his own bicycle.
“The first thing I did when I got to campus was I got an Aggie Blue Bike — after I got my USU ID,” Moore said. “I think mobility and having access to transportation should be essential.”
During the student fee board meeting, the Aggie Bike fee was proposed to be reduced from $2.78 to $1.11 resulting in an estimated $60,000 reduction in funding. USUSA President Sami Ahmed proposed a surcharge on parking passes to fund the majority of the Aggie Bike program, leaving an estimated $10,000 to be sourced by other means.
“They’ll just have to find an alternative funding source,” Ahmed said.
USU President Noelle Cockett said the goal was to shift programs that students are passionate about to more sustainable “hard funding” in lieu of vacillating student fees. Judging by the enthusiasm she had seen for Aggie Blue Bikes, Cocket suggested fundraisers and grants may help cover the loss.
“You guys’ passion about those Aggie Bikes tells me people would be willing to help us,” Cockett said.
According to Ahmed, initial proposals to dismantle the program were withdrawn due to the efforts of students.
“I hope you can see that President Cockett does really value your voice,” Ahmed said. “The proposal walked from complete elimination to a small decrease — let’s just keep that in mind.”
After a recent audit by the Office of the State Auditor, Cockett said student fees were “interpreted as a tax” for services. Cockett said the recommendation from the audit was student fees shouldn’t exist in their present state; services should be included in tuition or be paid for explicitly by students using those services.
After the student fee board recommended a $4.90 increase in fees in a prior meeting, Cockett said the Board of Trustees required two days later that student fees stay flat — changes in how student fees were allocated could occur laterally, so long as the net amount would remain unchanged.
“What’s odd is we have no process at Utah State to actually decrease fees,” Cockett said.
What’s more, Cockett said student fees or tuition had never actually been lowered in all her time at the university.
“It’s always increased or remained flat, and that is beginning to be a major problem for stakeholders,” Cocket said, explaining legislators, higher education boards, parents and students are being affected by creeping costs. “This year the presidents were charged to keep, as much as possible, tuition and students’ fees flat.”
Ahmed presented all proposed changes to student fees. Nearly every fee, excluding the building fee, would receive a reduction. Fees for health services and counseling were proposed to be untouched and funded entirely by tuition. The building fee — intended to provide funds for debt service on the Taggart Student Center, Aggie Recreation Center and the Stadium Athletics Academics Complex — would receive the only increase at $5.29.
Cockett said the proposed changes were in the recommendation phase and the Utah Board of Higher Education had the final say on student fees and tuition.
Prior to the meeting, Margaret McCarthy, the program coordinator at Aggie Blue Bikes, said cuts in funding would make a “big statement.”
“It’s pretty devastating,” McCarthy said. “If the cut is actually happening it’s going to be devastating to a lot of students and to the culture of sustainability on our campus. So, it’s hard to believe that it would be cut.”
For McCarthy, the broader conversation around the proposed cut has to do with how decisions are made at the university and how information is disseminated. McCarthy said she didn’t believe the university was interested in cutting the program completely, but there had been a lot of uncertainty about what was happening with the program and the university’s commitment to sustainability.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation and confusion for myself and for students and for the fee board,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy championed the students speaking out and drawing attention to Aggie Blue Bikes. Aside from being a generally “radical” mode of transportation, McCarthy said bicycles also build community.
“It’s been really beautiful to hear some people’s stories about how this program has affected their lives,” McCarthy said. “It is nice to know that there’s a lot of support for this program, and I think that students have made their voices heard.”