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Free Clickers, Courtesy of UPUA

Wednesday night, UPUA made significant strides both in its own development and in creating a program for the benefit of the student body. And they did it in record time.

Indeed, what was easily the shortest meeting of Penn State’s student government might well have been among its most influential. Just as important, though, is that there was hardly an ounce of debate on any of the legislation brought up Wednesday.

Last week, Spencer Malloy, Eli Glazier, and John Zang sponsored the “Ray-Ban Ban,” brought in the wake of UPUA’s spending $3,000 on promotional items meant to spread the name of UPUA amongst the student body. True to form, it was met with skepticism from some, like Kyle Lorenz, whose Programming committee instigated the initial promotional campaign, and met with questions from much of the rest of the Assembly. As a result, the legislation was sent back to the Internal Development committee to iron out some of the kinks.

And yet when the same exact bill, give or take a few minor changes in wording, was presented to the Assembly Wednesday night, it passed almost unanimously, with one lone abstention. There were no questions, and discussion was limited to Governmental Affairs Chair Adam Boyer encouraging his fellow UPUA members to vote for the bill.

Nick Grassetti, Chair of Internal Development, said that his committee meeting was “like Steering,” with attendance from every Chair and numerous interested parties. Whatever discussion they had there must have quelled all possible concerns, since none were raised at the General Assembly meeting.

Following that, UPUA refined its Constitution to more accurately reflect the roles of the Student Life and Diversity and Facilities Committees, which had seen some overlap in their responsibilities. Now, the former has under its jurisdiction “housing and food services,” while the latter can deal with “housing and food infrastructure.”

But it was the final piece of new business which generated the most buzz, which consumed the majority of the meeting–but with friendly discussion, rather than contentious debate–as UPUA decided to spend about $6,500 on 215 clickers, which would be rented to a handful of lucky students, free of cost.

Elias Warren introduced the legislation, and explained that it was meant to help lessen the burden for some students.

“The thing that we’re trying to do here is alleviate for some students the need to buy it and then get stuck with crap at the end,” he said. “I can’t use this as a remote when I’m done with it.”

Warren explained that Penn State has a contract with i-Clicker for the next 5 years, so the clickers would be used for the next 9 semesters, starting with this spring. That ability for repeat use was stressed often, first by Warren, who implored the rest of the Assembly to think of the purchase as “an investment.”

Under the rental program, students would pay a $40 deposit for the clickers, and the money would be returned upon return of the clicker at the end of the semester. The clickers will be available to 200 students–the extra 15 are for insurance, in case a few are defective–on a first-come first-serve basis.

President T.J. Bard asked Warren whether he’d considered giving first rights to clicker rentals to those who had a financial need, but Warren said he “want[ed] to open it up to everybody, so everyone can get a fair chance.”

“I thought about it for about three and a half seconds,” Warren said, before likening the clicker distribution to a “running of the bulls.”

John Zang, who also sponsored the legislation, explained the reasoning on a more rational level, saying that it would be difficult to ask students to prove a financial hardship, a stumbling block that UPUA had dealt with in the earlier Princeton Review course subsidy.

Mallory Reed seemed to sum up the opinion of most of the Assembly, saying that although the program wouldn’t reach too many students, it was still a valuable endeavor for UPUA.

“We can’t help 40,000 people, so if we can help 200 constituents, I think that’s a good place to start.”

Only Tonia Damiano was willing to take a stand against the legislation, and accepted her stance as the lone opposition. “I’m totally okay with being the only no,” she said. Damiano’s criticism was leveled on multiple fronts; primarily that UPUA would be spending so much money on a “pilot program” that wouldn’t reach a significant portion of the Penn State community.

“I don’t think we should spend 6 grand on a project and say ‘we’ll see where it goes,'” adding that from the feedback she received in discussions she had with her constituents, “I’m not sure this is the way to go.”

I’m inclined to agree with Damiano on most of her points. The program can only, by definition, affect 200 students, less than .5% of the University Park population. A used clicker costs about $30 at the student bookstore, and less online, and selling it back will net you half of that. I’m not sure what, exactly, but I’d hope UPUA could find something to spend those $6,500 on that does more than save 200 students $15.

During discussion of the legislation, a number of students tweeted @OnwardState to voice their opinion on the clicker rental program. Most were negative, questioning whether it had a large enough reach to justify spending that much money. It’s a shame none of them were at Wednesday’s meeting, to take it up with the Assembly.

While it’ll be great for those who are able to secure rentals, this does nothing for students who aren’t so lucky. The White Loop extension cost about $5,000, I understand, and that services hundreds of students each weekend night. UPUA Legal Affairs (now Student Conduct Advisors), is budgeted about $5,500 to help any and all students with their legal issues. This clicker rental program is limited in scope, and doesn’t address a true hardship for most students at University Park.

Eli Glazier had suggested a program by which students pay a $5 use fee, which would make the clicker rental sustainable–each semester, UPUA could purchase an additional 35 clickers, and the initial investment would be paid off in just over 6 years. However, that didn’t gain significant traction, and didn’t make it into the final text.

If it had, I’d be more inclined to support the program. But as it is, I don’t think it’s wide reaching enough in its implications, and sets a dangerous precedent, whereby UPUA can narrowly tailor legislation to help out small samples of individuals rather than aiming to improve student life for the entire undergraduate population at Penn State.

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About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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