The University of Hawaii Board of Regents is expected to vote Thursday on whether the school will make students pay a $50 athletic fee each semester. University Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw requested the fee be initiated. The measure would help offset the more than $10 million of debt that the athletic department has accumulated since 2002.

Returning the athletic department to the black, however, is only part of the reasoning for the fee according to university spokesman Gregg Takayama.

“The purpose of the fee, the Chancellor has emphasized, is not to balance the budget but more to enhance benefits for student athletes and benefits for students all together,” Takayama told Civil Beat.

Declining ticket sales and the national recession have led to UH athletics’ current predicament, department officials said. With exception to 2008, the department has averaged a $2 million yearly operational loss, exactly the amount the fee is expected to generate annually.

If the regents reject the proposition, Takayama says the school would be “back to square one,” in terms of trying to solve its debt woes.

Regardless, students have rallied in opposition to the fee.

Both the Graduate Student Organization General Assembly (GSO) and the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii (ASUH) have voiced anger over the new proposed fee. Together, the two organizations represent the roughly 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students at the university.

The graduate student organization released a statement Tuesday urging the Board of Regents to reject the proposition. Among other things, the group said the chancellor seemed to be supporting athletics over academics.

The group noted “similarities between the Chancellor’s proposal and the state legislature’s recent proposals to subsidize a popular state program (athletics) by hijacking graduate and undergraduate educational funds.”

But student representatives aren’t sure what effect, if any, their opposition will have on the regents’ vote.

“If the Board of Regents were to pass the athletic fee with all of this opposition to it, it would send a clear message out to the university students and the community that what student groups say really doesn’t matter. And that’s concerning,” said Andrew Itsuno, president of the ASUH.

The university disagrees that students have no input, saying that the groups will dictate what happens with at least part of any revenue collected from the proposed fee.

“There’s a key role for ASUH and GSO,” Takayama said. “If the board approves the fee, there is still discussion that is required as to, number one, how the fee will be implemented. And in addition, five to eight percent of all the revenues would be set aside for student activities.”

Regardless, student leaders weren’t impressed with the payout.

“Five to eight percent isn’t that much money,” Itsuno said. “It doesn’t make the whole unclear student consultation and the unclear process any better just because they are giving us five to eight percent of the money.”

Both organizations say they will continue to seek support from school officials and the Hawaii community at large before the vote Thursday.

The ASUH has been contacting the student body through social networking sites and their own website. But Itsuno said, “It’s extremely difficult when the timing of the proposal is during summer when a lot of students are away.”

The proposed athletic fee is the last item on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, which will be held at 9:00 a.m. at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Stan Sheriff Center in the Hospitality Room. The meeting is open to the public.