The OSPIRG “Activist Toolkit”.
Yesterday Guy Simmons and I made an appearance at the OSPIRG meeting down in Suite 1. We introduced ourselves with our real names with no intention of hiding from who we are. We received a plethora of materials, including an “Activist Toolkit” that, among other things, included instructions on how to “rap” with kids about OSPIRG. (Because it’s still 1968 and the word “rap” is culturally relevant in that context)
The question I was asking myself as we sat down with these people was, “How are these people still here?” OSPIRG is not a funded or ASUO recognized group, yet they still have office space, computers, an internet connection, a phone and electricity (lights, etc) given to them at the cost of the EMU (and presumably the students).
The campus organizer introduced himself as well as the two volunteer staffers that were in attendance. They proceeded to explain that OSPIRG, “Sends constituents to congress to speak on behalf of the students.”
At that point I asked, “Okay so you send people to… lobby for students? It’s a lobbyist group?” The answer was, of course, “Yes.”
They proceeded to explain to me that OSPIRG uses the mandated tuition money it receives received from the student government to pay for lobbyists to go to Washington D.C. and Salem to lobby for things like “lower textbook prices” and “lowered tuition”.
When I asked if they had proof that the money students gave to OSPIRG was directly returned to students they said, “Yes, absolutely. We have all of that. And last year we told the ASUO like, several times, how we return the money to campus.”
This, of course, was a lie. Last year’s ASUO de-funded OSPIRG because it could not, in fact, show proof of a direct return of students’ money.
When I asked how they were able to still keep things like events and salaries going, the campus organizer, who is the only paid employee there, told me that other money is being given to the University of Oregon chapter by other PIRG’s in the state of Oregon. That’s right… they directly admitted to using the money they receive from the tuition of the students at Southern Oregon University and Lane Community College for usage at the University of Oregon. Since the efforts of OSPIRG here at the UO is all about getting themselves re-funded through the ASUO, I can hardly understand how the money from SOU and LCC is directly benefiting the students from those schools.
If that’s not an admission of those students’ money not being returned to their campus, I don’t know what is.
The worst part of the entire meeting was when I asked how much funding they’d lost. “About $117,000,” said the campus organizer. “So you could be getting paid $100,000 a year to be a campus organizer?” I asked. He proceeded to tell me that the $117,000 goes off-campus to pay the salaries of OSPIRG lobbyists in Salem and Washington D.C. “Plus,” said one staffer, “It was only like, a $1.66 to every student on campus. I mean, $1.66 isn’t that much.”
I had to stop myself from asking him, “Only a $1.66? Okay, can I have a $1.66 from you right now? It’s only a $1.66”
Things got a little heated (mind you, this is still before they realized who I was) when I asked why they felt that the I-Fee, which is a mandated tax on students as part of their tuition, should pay for something like OSPIRG. If students wanted a lobbyist group they felt was aligned with their interests, couldn’t they just come down to the state offices and donate money?
A fiery staffer responded with, “Hey, I don’t want the Women’s Center but we still have it, don’t we? You can’t just take things away because ‘some people’ don’t want them!”
I responded with, “Well, doesn’t the Women’s Center directly benefit students here on campus? They have an office, they do work on assault prevention, domestic violence, training workshops, they have a library to check out books, they have computers for people to go in and use, they provide breast feeding supplies and storage….”
He wasn’t pleased with my response. At that point, he and another staffer left to conference in the hall.
The rest of the meeting was filled with babble about what they were doing here on campus and the conferences they were holding etc. By the time they wanted to do individual conferences with us about “what we wanted to work on” they had pretty much figured out who we were. One of them eventually recognized me, “Are you a reporter from the Commentator or something?”
I suppose my clean-shaven head, button down shirt, Italian wool coat and wingtip shoes put me a little out of place in Suite 1, so I responded with, “Yes, I’m Dane–the Publisher.”
Even after this, they were still trying to get us to come to their next meeting. They were trying to entice us with pizza and other snacks a few days later. We declined, feeling it unjust of us to eat pizza bought with the tuition furnished by the students from LCC and SOU.
OSPIRG is still on this campus and we cannot figure out why. They were de-funded last year, but their shady funding practices allow them to use money from other PIRGs to maintain their staff. They argued earlier in the meeting that every dime they take from students they return directly back to our campus.
I wonder if they said the same thing to those kids from LCC and SOU?
I bet they’d like a slice of pizza.