Chair questions OSA fees oversight

The Office of Student Affairs took in $97,651 in student fees this year.

by Cali Owings

Without approval from students, the Office for Student Affairs takes tens of thousands of dollars in student fees each year to fund the fees process.
Unlike other fees-receiving student groups or administrative units like Boynton Health Service, OSA does not submit a request to the committee for this use of student fees money, and that bothers Student Services Fee Committee chair Megan Freeman.
âÄúThey donâÄôt feel like they belong in the process, but they are getting the same fees,âÄù Freeman said.
The fees administration fund covers fees committee membersâÄô stipends, room and equipment rental, audits and partial salary for the fees adviser.
According to the budget provided by fees adviser Megan Sweet, the fund for 2010 included $70,951 leftover from 2009, but OSA still collected another $97,651 in student fees. In all, the total income for 2010 was more than $170,000. But only about $76,000, or less than half, of the fund was used in 2010, resulting in another large carryover.
The projected budget for 2011 also includes more than $95,000 in carryover.  The OSA has said it plans to reduce leftover fees money to less than $50,000 by 2013.
Even though the carryover will eventually decrease, expenses for 2013 are expected to increase 58 percent to $120,810. The increases includes more money allocated to audits, which are expected to cost more as the number of student groups applying for fees increases. More money is also planned for the salary and benefits for the fees adviser, which is funded through both OSAâÄôs budget and the fees fund.
After receiving the Student Services Fees Administration budget and projections through 2013, Freeman expressed concern to Sweet regarding increases to salary and benefits. She wrote in an email that students should not be âÄúused to make up departmental shortfalls through cost-shifting.âÄù
Freeman also asked for rationales for increased supplies and equipment expenses. Sweet wrote back that the fees administration budget was âÄúmanaged and monitored with the same degree of oversight as other University administrative budgets,âÄù and that no âÄúfraudulent or otherwise suspicious activityâÄù had ever been found in its spending.
Sweet then wrote that she would no longer respond to FreemanâÄôs inquiries.
To Freeman, the Student Services Fees Administration budget should come under the same scrutiny as other groups, which includes justifying carryover funds.
Last week, Freeman asked Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart if he would provide a copy of the OSA budget and ledger of expenses for the fees administration fund. Like any group requesting fees, she said, she would like the committee to be able to ask questions about its budget and why itâÄôs requesting fees with such high carryover.
Ordinarily in the process, student groups are denied funding if they have too much money in reserves.
Freeman asked OSA to respond with the information by March 18, but so far she said she has not received any more information
In an email obtained by the Daily, Rinehart wrote that the fees administration budget could be âÄúa subject for discussion when we meet with the SSFC chairs to review the process and consider improvements for the upcoming year.âÄù
While the SSFC has never reviewed this use of student fees before, Freeman argued that the fees committee has a right to request information from any fees receiving organization.
Though several members of the committee are interested in receiving more information from the administration, Freeman said she has received most of the criticism.
Rinehart wrote that Freeman was expressing personal opinions, rather than the will of the committee.
Despite her requests for transparency from the administration, he also expressed concern that she was not honest with the fees selectors who appointed her to the committee about her relationship with former SSFC Chair Paul Freeman, her brother.
âÄúIâÄôm not just going to let their personal attacks and intimidation stop me from figuring it out,âÄù she said. âÄúEvery student has a right to see where their money is being spent and itâÄôs important to me to bring that to the student body.âÄù