Biological sciences

by Kelly Hildebrandt

The College of Biological Sciences late last week rescinded a $100 computer fee added to graduate student fee statements in the beginning of fall quarter.
The fee, which was rescinded until further notice, created a 60 percent increase in student fees, which totalled $260 per quarter after the increase. Only full-time graduate students — those taking six or more credits — were assessed the fee.
The fee affected many departments in the College of Biological Sciences, including the departments of ecology, evolution, and behavior; biochemistry; and plant biology.
When they implemented the fee at the beginning of fall quarter, administration didn’t consider how much graduate students use the computers and didn’t notify graduate students about the new fee, said John Schampel, a graduate assistant in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior.
Schampel said a six-member committee of ecology, evolution, and behavior students met with College of Biological Sciences Dean Robert Elde to discuss the fee earlier this quarter.
“I’m not happy that we failed to communicate with the graduate students,” said Elde, who made the decision to rescind the fee.
Elde said the college eradicated the fee because it became too complex to apply fairly. Some departments such as conservation biology, whose students aren’t assessed the fee, often have faculty who are part of another department, Elde said. Faculty advisers then have some students who are assessed the fee and some who aren’t.
Undergraduate students have been paying the fee for about two years, said Jane Phillips, the central teaching facilities coordinator.
“We were having serious complaints from undergraduates,” Elde said. Many graduate students use the first-come-first-serve labs in the Biological Sciences Center, prohibiting access to some undergraduates, he added.
Schampel said the new fee was the equivalent of a pay cut. Although full-time graduate assistants receive a tuition waiver, they still pay student fees.
The fee amount was based on information technology costs in the college, Phillips said. Some of these costs include upgrading computers, buying specialized programs, and supporting faculty instructional computers, Phillips said.
For example, in spring 1998, 20 MacIntosh computers were upgraded at a cost of about $1,600 per computer, Phillips said.
The Graduate Students Organizing Congress, which is driving for a union election, used the fee increase in the biological sciences college to call attention to what they see as excessive and arbitrary fees around the University.
GradSOC is currently holding a card-signing drive to achieve a union vote. To gain a union vote, GradSOC must obtain signatures from 35 percent of the 3,700 graduate assistants. Late last week they had 1,227 signatures.
The six-member ecology committee is a microcosm of what a union can do, said Schampel, who is a GradSOC member.