Fees committee holds second public hearing

by Tom Ford

Disagreement within the Minnesota International Student Association was displayed Thursday at the second of three Student Services Fees Committee public hearings.

The two-hour hearing also became a forum for several other organizations to make pleas for increased fees dollars, as well as for political sparring among student lobbying groups.

Heather Ring, a MISA member who recently resigned, said disputes erupted among MISA members and over the group’s fees request.

Those problems were brought to the attention of the fees committee Wednesday, and Ring said some members were asked to address the concerns at Thursday’s hearing.

The fees committee has not made a recommendation for MISA because the group did not provide satisfactory budget information when funding levels were set, according to the fees committee.

Bastiaan Vanacker, a former MISA public relations secretary, said the leadership structure has changed in troubling ways.

“MISA has changed from a democratic organization into a hierarchical one,” Vanacker said.

Sulieman Nader, MISA president, said his leadership style is different than past presidents, but said the group structure remains horizontal and members continue to have voting power.

Nader said under the current leadership membership has doubled and attendance at MISA functions has dramatically increased.

Ring said MISA has used money irresponsibly and the group’s request is not in the best interest of its members.

For instance, Ring said MISA’s request calls for an outrageous increase in administrative stipends, which are given as gifts to members volunteering their time to the group.

Ring said the increase – totaling approximately $10,000 – largely results from paying minimum wages to some members who would be required to work for five hours in MISA’s office.

Such requirements conflict with MISA’s constitution and the volunteer nature of the group, she said.

Ring asked the committee to provide MISA with a skeletal budget despite its difficulties but said she fears funding will be entirely cut.

But Patrick Peterson, MISA finance secretary, said the amount originally requested for stipends has dropped in the latest budget submitted to the committee.

He said the organization is dealing with its problems and members had agreed to keep disputes private.

“It’s really a shame the other people aren’t willing to uphold that,” Peterson said. “I don’t think the public hearings are the place to talk about (the issues).”

Orlando Ochoado, a Students for Family Values member, spoke on behalf of the conservative public interest group Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, which has so far been denied funding.

Ochoado said conservative student groups are consistently refused money while liberal campus groups, such as the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, “hold a monopoly on fees funding.” He said groups such as CFACT should receive funding to balance the marketplace of ideas on campus.

But Rachel Boeke, an MPIRG state board member, said MPIRG works to provide affordable housing and helps fund a local women’s shelter, which are “not liberal issues.”

In addition, Boeke and other MPIRG members defended the negative checkoff mechanism that funds the group through the University’s registration system.

Under this mechanism, students are assessed fees for the group unless they refuse funding.

During deliberations on Saturday, several fees committee members said students ignore the option and fund groups out of apathy.

The committee recommended the funding system change to a neutral mechanism, which would charge students fees only if they approved. University Vice President and Provost Robert Jones said this week there will be no switch.

Kirsten Johnson, chairwoman of MPIRG’s state board, denied that students ignore the funding option.

She said biennial surveys conducted by the fees committee show approximately 85 percent of students understand their option and more than 90 percent approve of the current system.

Many groups currently funded at levels below their requests asked for more money by outlining potentially devastating impacts if recommendations do not change.

Matt Gauthier, Minnesota Student Association speaker, said the group’s Diversity Events Fund grant program will suffer a $16,950 cut under the current funding level for MSA, which stands at $85,000. He said the group is asking for $122,000.

Dan Weiske, a Twin Cities Student Unions officer, said the recommendation amounts – which fall more than $1.6 million below the unions’ three requests – will cripple the unions.

For example, Weiske said the unions’ reserves will be essentially exhausted with $6.5 million dedicated to Coffman Union’s re-opening, and therefore programming will drop dramatically.

Decreasing activities, he said, reduces student traffic in Coffman, which in turn drives down revenue and will force the union to ask for more funding next year.

The final fees committe public hearing begins at noon Friday in Willey Hall.


Tom Ford covers the fees committee and welcomes comments at [email protected]