Jones: Groups will keep current checkoff system

by Tom Ford

Despite the Student Services Fees Committee’s initial recommendations, an overhaul of the negative check-off funding mechanism won’t occur, said University Vice President and Provost Robert Jones.

In a statement sent to committee members, Jones said he will stand behind a recommendation he accepted last year from a University system-wide task force to maintain the current funding system for the next five years.

A neutral checkoff mechanism would assess fees only if a student approved of the funding.

During deliberations Saturday, the committee recommended three groups currently receiving special assessment fees be switched to a neutral checkoff funding system.

Representatives of those groups and some fees members said the committee shouldn’t have called for the change because it might hurt some groups and conflicts with University policy.

But other committee members said they had the right to recommend reforming the funding mechanism and the committee’s decisions should not be ignored.

Groups included in the proposed change – Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, Student Legislative Coalition and a social events fund of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly – gather fees through a negative checkoff mechanism in the University’s registration system.

Fees for those groups are charged to students unless they refuse payment by marking a checkoff box. Students can request a refund at any time during the semester.

Last spring, a University system-wide task force recommended this system be maintained for four to six years.

But the task force said unless biennial fees committee surveys during that period showed more than 75 percent of students understood their options under this mechanism, a change should be examined.

Dave Anderson, MPIRG executive director, said the committee’s recommendation caught him off guard, but he anticipated Jones would decide against changing the policy.

He said members were made aware of the limits regarding task force recommendations before the process began.

“The real surprise was the fees committee voting the way they did,” Anderson said.

Anderson said students currently ignore the checkoff boxes. But even if the rules were amended, their attention would not be sharpened. In such a case, he said, support for the group would plummet. He estimated MPIRG funding would drop by approximately $115,000.

Jon Grebner, a fees committee member, said members should not have debated changing the funding system, and the committee’s recommendations blatantly ignore University administrative policies.

Grebner said the committee has made recommendations he’s certain will be overturned and he fears will invite repercussions.

Since it serves at the pleasure of the University, he said, the committee’s actions could upset administrators to the point of dissolving future committees.

But Doug Karle, another committee member, said decisions of the task force or previous committees don’t necessarily restrict what this year’s committee can recommend.

Karle said members took past recommendations into account but the current process is flawed and warranted a change.

“(A neutral mechanism) will affect some groups’ revenues no doubt,” he said. “But it’s an open and honest way to get fees.”

Committee Chairman Tim Lee said while committee actions are not ultimately binding, he would be disappointed if the University administration didn’t accept the members’ funding decisions.

“I think Robert Jones should take the committee’s recommendations very seriously,” Lee said.

Tom Ford covers the fees committee and welcomes comments at [email protected]