Campaign tactics in this year’s election for Associated Students of Utah State University (ASUSU), USU’s student government, have caused groups to point fingers at each other. University students voted last week in favor of a student fee increase. The increase will pay for the Aggie Legacy Fields and Aggie Recreation Center, which will provide outdoor turf fields, basketball courts, rock climbing walls and more for students on campus. These two projects rely on student fees and would not have been built if the fee increase wasn’t approved. University administrators have said the center and fields are necessary for students and will act as a recruiting tool for potential students. USU Board of Trustees members clapped when it was announced that the fields and center were passed, many members having expressed their support since the project was first introduced to the board. The battle to win the student vote, however, was not a clean one. There were those who supported the fee and those who didn’t. It was promoted by student government on campus and opposed by a group of loosely organized students called Students Against Academic Waste (SAAW).
<strong>The problem at the Sports Academy</strong>
A picture was passed around Facebook last week of a computer at the Sports Academy and Racquet Club set up as a station for students to vote. The sign next to the computer asked USU students to vote against the recreation center student fee and advertised a raffle for an iPad 2. Chase Casillas, an activities director at USU, has been a member at the Sports Academy since 2009, mostly using their weight lifting room. One of his friends notified him of the Sports Academy voting center. “Just being involved with student government, I couldn’t believe it,” Casillas said. Casillas said it was wrong – illegal, even – for the club to get involved in campus student government with bribes. As the picture was passed around Facebook, students took notice. A few threatened to pull their memberships from the academy because they disagreed with the company’s involvement. One called the club’s management and threatened to bring lawyers over the raffle. However, Dan Smith, Sports Academy manager, said the raffle wasn’t run by the Sports Academy and that the club wasn’t doing anything wrong. SAAW contacted the the club last Monday and asked if they could set up a USU voting station, since many students use the club. It was SAAW that was putting on the raffle and not the Sports Academy, Smith said. If ASUSU had contacted the club about putting up a voting station with a sign supporting the student fee, Smith said he would have allowed it, too. ASUSU candidates often hand out campaign fliers during election week with local restaurants’ coupons on the bottom. Smith said these coupons are no different than SAAW’s contest. “It’s a double-edged sword, and it’s only OK if it works out to (ASUSU’s) favor,” Smith said. “With the SAAW group, if you voted yes for the recreation center, you’d still be entered for the contest, which is the same thing ASUSU officers were doing with coupons for free food. If you don’t vote for them, they still give you the coupon. This just became a big deal because it was against what ASUSU was working for.” Once Smith was notified Wednesday afternoon that there could be legal problems with the iPad contest, he decided the trouble wasn’t worth it and removed that part of the sign. Smith still says he does not feel like his club did anything wrong, especially since it wasn’t their contest to begin with. The club spends money and donates money to the university every year through sponsoring Athletics, buying advertisements in the school paper and through other venues. Smith has a contract with USU and hosts about 35 physical education classes for the university every year. He said his business, as well as other local businesses like the Rockhaus and Fun Park, will be impacted by the new university recreation center. The Sports Academy was not told about the USU recreation center plans; he found out about the student vote through a flier on campus. Since the project will affect local businesses, Smith said it would have been good to notify them of the upcoming vote. “Do I think they were shady? No. But I do think they could have involved the public more,” Smith said.
<strong>The problem on campus</strong>
SAAW also put a voting station near the business building on campus with signs advertising the iPad raffle and asking students to vote against the recreation center. Joe Watson, ASUSU College of Science senator, passed the voting center as he was leaving his class. After filling out a raffle ticket, he tried to drop it in the bowl with the other tickets when Michael Rodgerson, president of the College Republicans, tried to stop him. Watson and Rodgerson agree with this series of events up until this point. Watson said Rodgerson demanded he vote against the fee increase in order to enter the raffle. If this is true, Rodgerson and the raffle could be considered as bribing the student body with an iPad for its votes. Rodgerson paints a different picture. He said he objected to Watson entering the raffle because he cut in front of other participants and hadn’t voted at all, which was a requirement of entering the raffle. While SAAW campaigned against the fee increase, Rodgerson said the raffle was merely a “way to fight the apathy” USU students have toward student government and get them to vote one way or the other. The group opposed student fee increases, but they weren’t going to turn a student away from the raffle because they voted for the increase, he said. Watson filed a grievance with the university against Rodgerson, stating the raffle classified as bribery in an election, which he said broke not only the student code but state law. Watson’s grievance letter against Rodgerson details his perspective of the verbal confrontation, stating, “I felt very frustrated with the whole situation. Not only did (Rodgerson) treat me very rudely but the actions were blatantly unethical. The whole situation has made me feel uncomfortable. I feel that Mr. Rodgerson has been very disrespectful in his dealings and I believe he feels that he can get away with whatever he wants.” Rodgerson said the grievance was Watson’s way of waging a “vendetta” against him for not letting him enter the raffle without voting. Rodgerson was contacted by the university and told to shut down the raffle, which he did. He was called in to talk to a disciplinary council, but he said he received an e-mail from the university later that no further action would be taken. – firstname.lastname@example.org