In 1998 the students of the University of Washington made a stupid decision, and this Friday, almost nine years later, that decision was affirmed on procedural grounds. The decision was to replace the aging Driving Range with a new state-of-the-art double deck range at a price of $3,000,000. Since then the Range has reduced in size to an expansion of only three tees and the cost has ballooned to $9.7 million. Through it all the S&A Fee Committee has dutifully agreed with the project and no matter how hard I may have tried, the range will go forward.
To be honest, I really couldn’t be more proud of the Committee this year. While I rather disagree with their decision, I am just a single vote on the Committee and refuse to be the Chair who pushes his opinion on the membership. It was their call, and they made it. Their reasoning boils down to this:
- The 1998 Committee approved the range at $3 million
- The 2002 Committee approved the range at $8 million
- There are no apparent procedural defects in how those decisions were made
- The decisions are themselves not unreasonable
- The 2006 Committee may have decided differently but it is not appropriate to substitute our judgment for theirs
- Funding outside of student money was available to make up the difference between the approved $8 million and the $9.7 million need
Even though the Committee had the resources to make up the difference on our own, they felt the decision was easier to make by using other resources. Personally, I don’t see the distinction. The other funding was money set aside for the Recreational Sports Program (RSP) and would have been used for other capital projects. By spending it on the Driving Range we just put the Committee in a worse position when RSP comes back to ask for funding later. It may not have been student funds today, but it will mean greater student spending later.
I would have been very interested to see the vote had that money not been available. I think it would have changed the dynamics, but the outcome would probably have still been the same. The Committee seemed unwilling to disturb the earlier decision and found a way to avoid doing that… but if that option hadn’t been available I think they still would have been unwilling to stop the project. The argument that we should leave the original determination undisturbed holds just as much water. Yes, we need to spend an additional 1.7 million more of student fees to faithfully execute the decision, but that’s no different than the actual situation… it’s just the appearance that it wasn’t our money.
The Committee also let the RSP Director get away with murder. These funds had been in an account for years and gone unreported until just a few days ago. Instead of berating the director, the Committee let him off easy. We could have made him spend every penny of those excess dollars, retaining as much of the student’s money as possible. Instead the Committee decided to let him keep as much as possible. I really can’t begin to understand that decision unless they were giving the original Committee decision of $8 million some sort of super-precedence. Not only had the costs gone up since then, the necessary funding from students had gone down.
Not a whole lot I can do about it now… except marvel at the larger situation and take away an important lesson. First, the necessary power to overturn a previous decision (even a bad decision) is far greater than I had expected. Second, combinding in recent observations from GPSS, the necessary power to make a new decision (even a bad decision) is far lower than I had expected. These two factors do not bode well for government.
So, if this is true… how is it that we’ve managed to hold the government together for so long? Shouldn’t we be tearing ourselves apart at the seams at this point?