Why Editorial Board was wrong on toilet paper legislation

Rachel Huynh

This paper’s editorial board recently published an editorial criticizing Student Government for its upcoming legislation in favor of two-ply bath tissue on the basis that the issue was a trivial cause unworthy of University time or resources. The Texan editorial board, however, was wrong.

When compared to some of SG’s more substantial initiatives — like Invest in Texas or the creation of the Student Activity Center — it may at first be difficult to see why a push for moving from one- to two-ply bath tissue is important.

 But I’m here to tell you that AR 29 is barely about bath tissue. It’s about SG actually listening to students’ concerns and acting on them, no matter how trivial those causes may seem.

“This legislation is a concrete way to show students that SG is actually listening,” said Liam Woolley-MacMath, McCombs representative and legislation co-author. “Students have been complaining about campus bath tissue since at least 2008, and it’s become a disappointment that their needs are ignored year after year.”

And there is clear student support for the change. The Undergraduate Business Council, known as UBC, of which I am a member, took a unanimous vote in favor of the legislation.

“Generally, UBC is extremely critical of legislation and often votes against pieces,” Woolley-MacMath said. “A unanimous ‘yes’ from the official student governing body of McCombs shows that students really do want it.”

The editorial board’s other complaints about the resolution were that the legislation is non-binding, and, if enacted, would increase costs and would not affect all facilities on campus.

It’s obvious that any update to campus facilities would increase costs. But, in this case, the University is open to absorbing them. The legislation included a quote from associate dean for business affairs Susie Brown, in which Brown said that “If [SG] can show enough folks are seeking the change, it will be easier for UT Facilities to justify the cost increase.” Student support, in other words, is vital for securing funding from the UT administration.

Additionally, since some facilities like the SAC are currently equipped with two-ply bath tissue, increasing the two-ply order from one building’s worth to a whole University’s worth should bring in major savings from economies of scale. The University would also enjoy the same savings of reallocated custodial labor time due to less tissue replenishment — higher-quality materials, of course, result in less usage.

As for the board’s complaint about AR 29 being non-binding, Woolley-MacMath said, “As anyone who has ever attended an SG meeting would know, all legislation is non-binding. However, administrators and students respect SG and are reasonable about making changes. And, as the legislation shows, Facility Services is willing to financially support this legislation.”

The board also called out the co-authors for citing UT Facilities Custodial Services for possible financial support when those entities do “not manage or supply bath tissue to auxiliaries of the University, [which are not] addressed by Woolley-MacMath’s legislation.” Auxiliary buildings actually are covered by the legislation, which clearly resolves that “the University of Texas at Austin Student Government recommends a change on a University-wide scale to supplying restrooms with two-ply, environmentally friendly bath tissue.” Though the co-authors of the legislation did not explicitly address costs of changes to the few auxiliary buildings still equipped with one-ply, they generalized cost allocations after seeing that costs of similar changes at Texas Christian University were described by administrators as “negligible.” 

An editorial scoffing at legislation that was from and for the students — from an authoritative board in the official student newspaper, no less — does not benefit anybody. Instead, it makes students uncomfortable with voicing real concerns to their representatives and makes it that much more complicated to secure funding from administration.

Neither of the co-authors asked for publicity when they decided to write that piece of legislation. When TCU’s Student Government made the move to two-ply, they made national news in an extremely positive, albeit amused, light. When our University’s SG tries to quietly make the same student-initiated change, it’s publicly criticized instead. “SG covers student life issues, and this is a student life issue,” Woolley-MacMath said. “We’re just doing our job.”

The people that this legislation could affect the most, however, are not the students but the custodial staff.

“If you ask all of the custodial staff in DHFS, they really prefer where we’re at with the two-ply paper now,” said Rick Early, Division of Housing and Food Services Residential Facilities Operations Director. “It makes their job easier because they only have to change the roll one to two times a week instead of daily.”

The editorial mocked the legislation purely because it was about a detail of facility supplies. Well, that’s exactly what all of our custodial staff dedicates their time to every day — the details of facilities — and by calling the legislation a ‘bullshit cause,’ they are discounting the hard work of all the custodians dedicated to serving students.

“I love my job,” said Custodial Services Manager Andrew Yanez, who supports the legislation. “Our custodians impact students every day with the work they do, and I love seeing the fruits of my efforts while remaining behind the scenes. I want to serve without being in the spotlight.”

It’s about time that we let SG do the same.

 Huynh is a Plan II and business honors sophomore from Laredo.