Africana members confront Yudof

by V. Paul

University officials pledged to review the embattled fees process after members of the Africana Student Cultural Center forced a meeting Monday with University President Mark Yudof, protesting the recommendations made by the Student Services Fees Committee.
During a protest rally prior to the meeting, Africana’s student officers accused some fees-committee members of trying to eliminate the student group from campus by trying to eliminate its funding.
This criticism comes amid speculation that University officials will instruct the fees committee to redo its fees process if they find its three faculty members were improperly denied voting rights.
Yudof, McKinley Boston, vice president for student development, Nancy Barcel¢, associate vice president for multicultural affairs, and Mary Amundson, an administrator who sits on the fees committee, met with four Africana members.
At the end of the meeting, Boston said he will appoint a task force after the fees process is completed to determine how to improve the student-run system.
“The process this year is an absolute disaster, overall,” Boston said. “Enough went wrong that we’re fairly confident the process will be evaluated.”
The student-run process distributes about $16 million from student fees to 31 student groups each year. University students each paid $265.43 in student services fees per semester this year, distributed among 31 student groups, including The Minnesota Daily.
Highly dependent upon actions by past committees, the fees process should be evaluated for how it deals with special circumstances — such as late faculty-member appointments to the committee — rather than general rules about the committee’s operation, said Jesse Berglund, fees-committee chairman.
“I feel unfortunate that that’s what administration thinks,” said Sabeen Altaf, a fees-committee member. “In my mind, there’s no reason to question the integrity of the process this year.”
The fees committee recommended a 10 percent budget reduction and a one-time $3,000 bonus for Africana — the reduction for a tardy and incomplete fees request, and the bonus to keep the group’s funding at current levels.
The fees committee maintained Africana’s funding because of the quality of the group’s campus activities, Amundson said. However, the committee does not have any written policy regarding late or incomplete requests.
“If we’re going to get into this, we ought to draft a more coherent set of rules,” Yudof said. “To me, writing it out is fairer to the students.”
Africana was late with its fees request two years in a row. This year, some of the information it submitted was unclear, Amundson said.
“Having no direct scheme of punishment for a late request is no justification for not taking any action on it, especially if it’s two years in a row,” Berglund said.
The fees committee will draw up formal policy recommendations by May, but next year’s fees committee will not be required to follow them. Permanent policy changes can only stem from the University administration, Altaf said.
University officials will let the fees process run its course but will take steps to make sure the results are fair and reasonable. Yudof has the ultimate authority to accept the recommendations or return them to the fees committee for further review.
Yudof asked Boston to sit in during the March 14 administrative hearings — the next step for the recommendations before Boston and Yudof get a chance to review them. Normally, Jane Canney, associate vice president for student development, attends the hearing to represent Boston.
“I’m not going to overturn the fees committee today,” Yudof said. “I have to tell you that I’m quite disturbed by this. Of all the organizations on campus, cultural organizations are the ones I think are most critical to our students on campus.”
With the rally, Africana members wanted to raise awareness among students about the fees process and persuade University officials to overturn the fees committee’s decisions.
“Once you threaten to cut one group’s funding, you threaten all groups’ funding,” said Terrell Edwards, a speech communications junior. “We’re just a stepping stone to what could happen.”