Eric Soskin ’99 wrote last year (and I misplaced his e-mail).

I was looking through the old posts about MassPirg that you linked in your post the other day, and saw the one in which you posted David La ’01’s recollections about the 1998 vote to end the term-bill checkoff system that supported them. Eric Smith ’99 posted a couple of additional memories in the comments to that post, but both of them mentioned that they really weren’t paying attention. I was a little more involved in the fight, so I have a few additional recollections that might help complete the EphBlog record (I would comment on the ’04 post, but it doesn’t seem possible).

– In the ’90s, MassPirg’s funding system required “recertification” by a majority vote of students every two years. The 1996 vote was very close — 52%-48% in favor, or 54%-46%. That year, MassPirg supporters (or maybe their paid organizers?) agreed to debate opponents in conjunction with the debate between College Council president candidates. I believe MassPirg debated Tushar Shah ’96 and Mike Fransella ’98, who scored points in the debate but ultimately allowed MassPirg to get the final word in with an elegantly-prepared “Save MassPirg” mailing to all SU boxes on the day of the election.

– In 1998, Fransella then took a leading role in the effort to change MassPirg’s funding system. With help from volunteers from the Garfield Republicans, he emphasized the inequity of the unique funding system and covered the campus in posters emphasizing the MassPirg coordinator’s salary (over $16,000 a year), and encouraging students to “Support the environment, not professional lobbyists.” (I have one of these posters in a scrapbook from Williams, hence the quote).

– In contrast to 1996, MassPirg declined to take part in a debate. Although there was a semi-uncontested slate for co-presidents of College Council (a write-in campaign was the only opposition), the MassPirg vote managed a respectable turnout, and the term-bill checkoff lost 735-381.

– Subsequently, there were a number of debates in College Council over related issues, like whether a majority of all enrolled students should be required in a vote to reinstate a term-bill opt-out, and what extent MassPirg should be granted access to shared facilities intended for student organizations.

Because of MassPirg’s hyperbole about how important they were and how rare it was for anyone to challenge their tax system, winning the vote was pretty thrilling, probably more than the occasion merited. Still, I have always counted it as a mark of Williams students’ good sense.

Thanks to Eric for sharing these memories. Other veterans of the MassPirg Wars, in whatever era and on whichever side, are welcome to comment. Previous coverage here.

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