I was shocked today when I opened my copy of the Hoot to see the article “Irresponsible Fees” by Alex Schneider. Let’s consider the term “irresponsible.” Princeton wordnet defines it as “showing a lack of care for consequences.” Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “not answerable for conduct or actions; not liable to be called to account.” I scoured the article for a single warranted argument as to why this fee could be viewed as “irresponsible,” yet failed to find a single one.
The fee certainly shows a concern for consequences; in fact its purpose is to remedy the negative environmental consequences of our life at Brandeis. Student housing is responsible for a significant amount of carbon emissions, and failure to implement this fee shows a lack of care for those consequences, and places the entire burden of offsetting them and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 (a goal the University has pledged to meet) on the University. It would be irresponsible to ourselves and to our planet not to contribute towards this effort.
The second component of responsibility is accountability, and the fee certainly meets that requirement. The Brandeis Sustainability Board, which would be created by the fund, is a completely separate institution from Students for Environmental Action. In fact, I personally suggested to the creators of the amendment that they include a representative from SEA on the Board, and was told they were not doing it for this very reason. The student component of the Board will consist of the SU Treasurer, the Chair of the Social Justice Committee, and then 2 independently elected student representatives. The election of these two representatives by the entire student body means that they are held accountable to the student body, a fact which distinguishes them from every student run club on campus. On top of that, the fee will also have external accountability: it includes members of the Brandeis faculty and staff, who have the benefit of years of experience and a different viewpoint, as well as independence from the student body, all of which will ensure that the funds are used in a responsible manner.
While the article fails to prove any sort of irresponsibility on the part of the Sustainability Fee, it does show a great deal of journalistic irresponsibility on the part of both Schneider and The Hoot’s editors. Schneider shows a lack of social responsibility to his readers in his failure to check the facts. A brief list of the facts that Schneider got wrong, and that anyone reading either the publicly available documents or the writings in support of the fee on SEA’s website, facebook group, or in response to The Justice’s editorial last week could see are blatantly untrue:
1) The fund supports the club, Students for Environmental Action. This is false, SEA can’t touch the money, does not have a representative on the board, the board is accountable to the entire student body, anyone can submit a project, and it is specifically designed to accomplish projects that SEA is unable to handle.
2) The fee came about as a result of SEA losing the vote to be secured. A simple phone call or email to any member of SEA would reveal that the club has been working on this amendment, meeting with senators and administrators, and drafting documents since the beginning of the Fall semester. This statement approaches libel.
3) That the fee is a circumvention of F-Board funding. “Student activities” are limited to just that – student activities. While the sustainability fund would fund student proposed projects, many of these projects would be infrastructure changes which do not constitute “student activities,” such as electric vehicles for facilities workers, drought resistant landscaping, or LED lampposts. Others could potentially include changes to class curriculum, such as green chemistry programs in labs.
Schneider makes other arguments which are also very flawed, although they do not necessarily fall under the category of factually incorrect. He claims that other options for funding exist, and gives the example of solar panels. While in this instance the market worked in favor of the environmentally sustainable option, economics 101 teaches us that there are plenty of externalities which the market fails to correct. There isn’t a company for each of the proposed projects mentioned above that would enable us to implement them without increasing costs, and we have a responsibility to offset our carbon footprint. Second, he claims that every club would choose to fund themselves in this manner. First, this would require each of the clubs to put forth the enormous effort that SEA has put into the Sustainability Fee all year, which few would be willing to do. Second, it would require them to gain support of the Senate and 2/3 of the campus, which very few proposals would be able to do. Third, there are numerous factors which distinguish this fee from funding that goes towards clubs such as the nature of the projects, the existence at other universities, and the involvement of faculty, all of which is discussed extensively above.
Although it pains me to think of the damage caused by Schneider alone, the majority of the fault lies with the Hoot’s editors. Clearly a conscious decision was made not to fact check, which is irresponsible on the part of the organization and represents a failure of journalistic integrity. This article is an embarrassment to the organization which chose to publish it without a simple phone call, or if they were unwilling to do that, any examination of the documents that are publicly available. And the real tragedy is that the article was published just days before the vote, without the opportunity for a printed response. This shows a true “lack of care for consequences.” Undoubtedly, this article will sway the decision of numerous voters before Monday, and my response, if ever published, won’t be able to be read until next Friday, days after the vote is complete. If the vote fails this Monday, the Hoot bears a portion of the responsibility for the harm they have caused to our environment, and the damage they have done to the reputation of our University. That, and not the fee, is the true irresponsibility.