MSA supports ‘neutral check-off’ for optional fees

by Emily Ayshford

A Minnesota Student Association position statement scheduled for a vote today reignites the widespread debate surrounding the University’s optional student fees.

The position statement pledges support of a neutral student fees check-off system, instead of the current system used to fund student groups Collegians For a Constructive Tomorrow and the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. In 2002-03, the student fee for each group is $4.13.

The current system, called “negative check-off,” means the default setting when students enroll is “yes.”

A neutral check-off funding system means the student would have to check either “yes” or “no” boxes next to each group, with neither checked as a default. Students are able to ask for a refund any time during the semester.

Dan Nelson, one of the MSA position statement’s authors, said the University’s administration told the fees committee the system will not be changed for at least three years.

Nelson said he thought that was too long to wait.

“Perhaps (University Vice President for Campus Life) Robert Jones is stalling because he doesn’t want to deal with it,” Nelson said.

A system-wide task force begun in 2000 reviewed the check-off fees process and recommended to Jones that the system stay the same for at least five years.

June Nobbe, with the Office for Campus Life, said further evaluations were being done to increase awareness about the system.

Nobbe said even if MSA passes the position statement, it will not put more pressure on the administration to change the current funding system.

“They would basically be overturning a former student decision,” Nobbe said.

Martin Andrade, co-author of the position statement, said MSA’s position probably would not matter in the eyes of the administration.

“They have bigger fish to worry about,” Andrade said.

Dave Anderson, MPIRG’s executive director, said the group receives about $120,000 per year from optional fees. He said according to University surveys, 93 percent of students were satisfied with the current setup and 73 percent had an immediate recollection of how the system works.

Anderson also said approximately 50 percent of the student body agrees to pay the fee for MPIRG. He said if the funding system would change, MPIRG’s funding would probably decrease.

“Anything would see a decrease in the level of funding, regardless of the level of support,” Anderson said.

The Student Services Fees Committee also considered a motion to recommend changing the check-off system, but the proposal failed.

“This issue is dead as dead can be,” committee member Dave Zaffrann said.

Emily Ayshford welcomes comments at [email protected]