Reform ignites concern

Liala Helal

Several student leaders are accusing a Student Services Fees advisory committee of not being open while it considers reforms of the fees process.

They said advisory committee members were appointed with little regard for ideological diversity, have proposed reforms that seem to take students’ voices out of the process, have been exchanging e-mails labeled confidential, and have not returned e-mails or phone calls.

“This is a public University, and they should conduct themselves in a public fashion,” said Aaron Solem, Student and Administrative Fees Committee member.

The accusations caught University Vice Provost of Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart off guard, who said the advisory committee has “nothing to hide.”

E-mails marked as confidential were not to make the process secretive, but to make the work more manageable, Rinehart said.

“It was marked confidential so that people wouldn’t react to things that are far from being decided,” he said.

The memo had the words “confidential draft for discussion purposes only” at the top.

Students were also concerned about committee members’ lack of diverse backgrounds, who were all appointed by Rinehart and assistant Amelious Whyte.

Most members are students from the Minnesota Student Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Rinehart said. Committee members were selected based on their involvement with the fees committee this year, he said.

But getting MSA and GAPSA more involved will not help the process, said MSA President Emily Serafy Cox.

“There is already a lot of politics involved,” she said. “I don’t think involving MSA and GAPSA more than we already are will make the fees process less political.”

Tom Meyer, who ran for MSA president mainly to reform the fees process and make fees optional, said it seems as though the advisory committee was created “just to get people off their back and not so much to actually fix the problems inherent to the fees process.”

He and Alex Newman e-mailed Rinehart asking to join the advisory committee, but received no response, he said.

Rinehart said Whyte later talked to Meyer on the phone.

“Basically, we said we’re not involving their particular interests,” Rinehart said. “At this stage we weren’t interested in adding other members, particularly those who have strong political reasons for being on board.”

He said he is only appointing students who represent some part of the student body.

Bill Gilles, adviser and national director to Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, a student group that is nationally involved in fees processes, said reform efforts are common in many schools.

“What is unique in Minnesota’s case is the degree of secrecy,” he said. When Gilles asked Rinehart and Whyte for information on meeting times, report summaries and meeting minutes, he was “denied on every front,” he said.

Rinehart said there is no reason why the committee would not send him a copy of the summary.

He said that although he “typically does not advertise meetings,” all advisory committee meetings are open to the public.

After Gilles tried to contact student members of the advisory committee, his calls went unanswered, he said.

“I later heardthrough back channels that the student members were taking seriously the word ‘confidential’ stamped on the top of their recommendations by Amelious Whyte,” Gilles said.

The members were never told not to respond, Rinehart said, and he doesn’t know why they would not return phone calls.

Tom Zearley, a member of the advisory committee and former MSA president said he hopes to instill students’ trust in the fees process.

“These changes will help improve the credibility of the process and, thus, the students’ faith in the process,” he said.

There are two meetings yet to be scheduled for this month, and Rinehart said he wouldn’t be opposed to having an open hearing to clear up the controversy.