Student groups prepare for yearly fees allocations

by Tom Ford

In comparison to the cost of University tuition, a charge of $1.30 each semester might seem trivial. But it could mean the difference between passing or failing a class.

That small per-student amount funds the Student Dispute Resolution Center, whose staff assists in resolving conflicts between students, faculty and administration over grades, registration or student employment.

Janet Morse, SDRC administrative director, said a few years ago she helped a student who missed a final exam because of an emergency appendectomy retake the test and pass the class.

Along with 32 other University groups and organizations, the SDRC is funded by Student Services Fees.

The dispute resolution center and Morse are a sampling of the faces and groups involved in the process – a line of text on the enrollment statement each semester, punctuated by a dollar sign.

Some students might not perceive they’ve gotten their money’s worth if they’ve never visited the La Raza Student Cultural Center, dropped a youngster off at the Community Child Care Center or picked up The Minnesota Daily.

Often, the groups might work behind the scenes. Morse said she eventually effected a University-wide policy change so professors must allow makeup exams for students who missed tests for reasons beyond their control.

Over the next few weeks, campus organizations such as the dispute resolution center will be doing everything they can to publicly explain, to fewer than 20 people, what they provide to the University.

And why they need money.

Those 20 people are their temporary benefactors, a group of students, faculty and staff that parcel out the annual fees accompanying tuition expenses.

Soon, dozens of campus groups and organizations will present their requests to the fees committee, setting off a complex and often volatile process who provides the lifeblood for many University organizations.

Totaling about $21 million in requests, groups seeking student fees include Boynton Health Service, the International Service and Travel Center, cultural centers and The Minnesota Daily.

Mary Amundson, fees committee adviser, said there are no limits to how much funding can be approved. But she said during the past few years the committee has been conservative with spending, and student fees have remained steady.

Last year 31 groups were granted approximately $17.6 million – $267 for every student.

Of 34 groups that applied for funding, 13 received less money than requested. Three groups were denied funding entirely.

Once presentations conclude, subcommittees will make funding recommendations near the end of February.

The full fees committee then examines those recommendations and accepts or amends them. Following this, public hearings are held where students can voice their concerns about groups or recommendations.

At the beginning of March, the fees committee will make its final decisions and set funding levels.

Before the checks are mailed, the Board of Regents must approve the funding slate following another session of public hearings.

But Tim Lee, fees committee chairman, said the administration rarely alters the recommendations.

There are 13 student members who compose the majority of the fees committee. They are chosen each fall by representatives of the Minnesota Student Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

Lee said student members are typically people who are heavily involved in campus activities, political organizations and student government. Lee, a computer science senior, said he’s president of the Campus Libertarians and is active with the Institute of Technology Senate and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Several groups generate the majority of their funding through student fees, but funding levels are never certain, and the nature of the process can create problems.

Lucy Faurot, co-chairwoman of the Queer Student Cultural Center, said student fees typically account for one-half or three-quarters of the center budget.

For the 2001-02 school year, the center received $43,815 from student fees, which Faurot said pay for an executive director, office rent and special conferences and events.

The center also generates money through outside grants and readies their budgets for funding that is less than their requests.

But she said the QSCC’s request represents the minimum amount funding necessary to sustain all the organization’s endeavors. If its request is not met, Faurot said, cuts in programs always remain a possibility.

“Sometimes cultural centers are seen as more unnecessary when in actuality we don’t get that much,” Faurot said.

Although funds are supposed to be distributed entirely irrespective of a student group’s viewpoints, she said in the past, some students have threatened to sue the University for funding the QSCC, and some committee members in the past have been unsupportive of QSCC beliefs.

“I get a little apprehensive about presenting to a subcommittee when there’s somebody, say, from the Students for Family Values on it,” Faurot said.


Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]