Students to address key referendum questions

By Madeline Keleher

The Spring 2006 ballot contains three referendum questions.

The first referendum question regards instating a $15 fee to fund the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship. Within the next 20 years, the fee will create a nearly $15 million dollar endowment for need – and merit-based scholarships, available to students from lower and middle income backgrounds. The scholarship will be renewable on the condition that the student completes 50 hours of community service.

“We thought it was appropriate that the student receiving the scholarship give something back to the community,” said Josh Rohrscheib, co-president of the Illinois Student Senate.

The second referendum question is one that comes up every four years and asks to continue the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee. The $6 collected each semester by the fee is matched by the state of Illinois, doubling the money that funds SEAL, a student need-based grant program.

The third referendum question is meant to survey the students about how they would feel if the University made an effort to increase the recruitment of minority students in order to increase the strength of the University’s applicant pool.

Although the total number of freshmen at the University increased between the present academic year and the previous one – from 5,946 to 7,584 – the number of minority students did not. The number of African-American freshmen enrolled has decreased from 521 to 499.

“It’s not about a quota or anything like that,” Rohrscheib said. “It’s about increasing the strength of our applicants.”

If passed, the referendum would ask the administration to expand efforts in recruiting students from underrepresented minority communities, according to the SEC Web site.

“Diversity on campus is beneficial to everyone,” said Ariel Avila, Illinois Student Senate chief of staff. “Being exposed to different beliefs, cultures and backgrounds enhances the experience we get at U of I.”

Between 12:00 a.m. Tuesday, March 7 and 11:58 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, students can vote at http://www2.uiuc.edu/election/vote.

“It’ll only take about five minutes, it’s quick and easy,” said David Eisenberg, SEC co-chairman.

SEAL scholarship

The origins of the Students for Equal Access to Learning, a student need-based grant program, lie in the turmoil of the civil rights era.

Back in the late 1960s, 99 percent of the University’s student population was of European descent. There were almost no black or Latino students, said David Eisenman, staff advisor to the original Students for Equal Access to Learning.

“The people missing were the low-income students,” Eisenman said.

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eisenman embarked on a mission to help low-income students afford the University.

After voluntary donation programs failed to bring in enough funds, Eisenman helped develop the SEAL program. In the spring of 1969, every student was given the opportunity to vote for a system that collected $2 each semester, which could be refunded easily. The state of Illinois would be asked to match each dollar collected.

Twenty thousand students voted, making it the largest referendum in the history of the University. The SEAL fee passed when 10,279 students said they approved it and would not collect their refund. Only 5,000 voted against it, while the remainder of the students voted in support of SEAL but could not promise not to collect the refund.

“During a time of great tuition increases, students were voting to voluntarily impose a $2 fee upon themselves,” Eisenman said.

Thirty-six years later, SEAL has raised more than $12.5 million to help thousands of students who would otherwise have struggled to afford the University, Eisenman said.

SEAL raised more than $1 million last year alone, according to the ISS Web site.

Eisenman said SEAL was designed to be voted on every four years so that no student who pays the fee will be denied the opportunity to vote on it.

“People should have to think about this, they should have to make a conscious decision about it,” Eisenman said.

SEAL continues to be crucial, Eisenman said, because there remains a minority of students who truly are struggling to afford the University.

“I’m trusting students to re-approve SEAL,” Eisenman said. “They always have.”