The athletics department gets about $58,000 in sponsorship funds from HSU's contract with PepsiCo, which give the multi-billion-dollar company "pouring rights" on campus.
Meredeth Garrott walked up to the front of the room. All administrators, students and community member’s eyes fell on the environmental science major as she read aloud the Humboldt State University graduation pledge. She said if the students are held to the pledge, then the institution that teaches them should be, as well, and partnering with PepsiCo is a violation of that pledge.
“I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work,” she read.
For the first time, HSU had a public meeting about its contract with PepsiCo which is up for renewal on June 30. If university administration renews the contract with the multi-billion-dollar company, it will be the third five-year contract in a row.
One of the main differences between the new contract and the previous two is that neither of them were discussed in public meetings before they were signed. Tessa Lance, an environmental science major and Associated Students representative, brought the contract into the public light after nearly a year-long battle to terminate it.
Lance sat in her designated seat as students and faculty trickled in close to the meeting’s 3:15 p.m. start time. She introduced the agenda and a video administrators made for people to better understand the contract. The hall was so crowded the council was forced to move to a larger venue next door.
Students, faculty and administrators talk about HSU's contract with PepsiCo at Monday's Associated Students meeting.
Lots of students said they don’t want the university to contract with PepsiCo, the mother company of Pepsi. There was only one student, an athlete, who voiced his concern with ditching the contract and losing athletic funding. In exchange for allowing PepsiCo to stock 80 percent of the retail products on-campus, Hsu receives the about $58,000 in sponsorship funds for athletic scholarships and scoreboard maintenance. HSU has contracted with PepsiCo since 1970.
The contract leaves 20 percent of HSU’s retail shelf space for “permitted” companies. One of the largest complaints students voiced of the contract is that it neglects local businesses by denying them space in campus stores.
Joyce Lopes, the university’s vice president of administrative affairs, said that challenging the contract comes at a difficult time for the university. HSU’s athletics department is facing its second consecutive year in a deficit just as the contract is up for renewal. The department is struggling for funding, she said.
“There is no easy solutions,” she said. “We are in a deficit environment and I honestly don’t know where to find that $58,000.”
The HSU athletic department has recently seen large changes to its management, including the naming of Tom Trepiak as its interim athletic director. Last year the university hired Strategic Edge, which is an athletics consulting firm to analyze the department’s budgeting and it found the department faced a more than $500,000 structural budget deficit.
According to the HSU website, “While HSU athletics does a good job of fundraising to support scholarships and through gifts-in-kind, the overall financial situation surrounding athletics is not sustainable.”
About nine years ago, the athletic department switched its revenue model — eliminating state general funds — and turned to increased student fees, fundraising and sponsorships to bridge the gap.
Alec Howard a recent HSU graduate and Arcata community member said that athletics already takes student funds every semester and it doesn’t make sense that all students should have to suffer because of the athletic department’s deficit.
“It's a reflection of the financial instability of the athletic department,” Howard said. “If athletes can’t get the funding without partnering with Pepsi, then they need to figure it out.”
Howard said by not renewing the contract the University would fall in line with other movements, such as Zero Waste, and would help the campus cut down on plastics. He said if the administration does sign the contract they need to be sure Pepsi is doing its part to reduce and reuse and, after both of those have been exhausted, recycle their own products.
“We already pay one of the highest IRA fees in the state,” one AS representative said as the discussion lead to a possible alternative of raising student fees to compensate the scholarship fund.
Students expressed many reasons they don’t want a PepsiCo contract. It seemed as if the only thing gluing the university to the contract is money, or a lack thereof. Garrett said having a contract with a company like PepsiCo is hypocritical of a school that prides itself on sustainability and social justice.
One solution for HSU is to negotiate the contract in order to receive more benefits from a Pepsi partnership, things like an improved sporting event concession stand or using added revenue to offset the university’s carbon footprint.
The meeting went well over the established hour and the AS council put in a motion to extend the discussion for an extra 20 minutes. There was no official decision on whether or not university administrators will continue contracting with PepsiCo. But one thing made clear is that if there is an alternative to the contract, it needs to be in place by June.
One suggestion brought forward by a a community member and several students is to partner with multiple local businesses. Ron Rudebock, director of dining services for HSU, said that PepsiCo products are not even the most popular items they sell. He said local products and others making up the remaining 20 percent of shelf space often do much better when compared to PepsiCo’s offerings.
Lance walked away from Monday’s meeting feeling a bit more optimistic than she has in the past. As she left the building, she said she thought the meeting went well and was impressed with the number of students who turned out in support of ending the contract.
“It was obvious that the problem is finding the funds,” she said.