Student services fees cuts vex religious groups

The groups requested more than ever overall, but their recommended cuts were deep.

by Anne Millerbernd

Most religious groups on campus requested significantly more funding amounts from the Student Services Fees Committee than they received last year, but the committee’s initial recommendations suggested that they receive less.

The SSFC cited a variety of reasons for the deductions. But if the recommendations stick, some groups say they’ll hinder growth.

Student groups committee Chair Benjamin Beutel said religiously affiliated student groups collectively requested more money than last year. Because the fees committee had a goal of allocating $2.3 million this year, he said, few groups received more money than before.

Catholic student group Saint Paul’s Outreach requested more than $128,000 — the most of the religiously affiliated student groups — and was recommended about 37 percent of that amount.

If the final recommended amount isn’t raised, group officer Tony Smith said, it will be hard for his group to gain members.

If the committee doesn’t give the group more money, Smith said it will make cuts to its leadership training, which is essential to the group.

“Saint Paul’s Outreach has a strong correlation between the number of involved students and the number of leaders,” he said. “So when we don’t have enough money to send students through training … we tend to see a drop in our event attendance.”

The committee recommended cuts to the funds that it felt the group could raise on its own. Smith agreed with this reasoning and said his group will likely do more this year to raise money through alternative means.

The committee recommended only 11.5 percent of the Lutheran Campus Ministry’s $45,700 request and about 20 percent of the Catholic College Student Group’s nearly $17,000 request.

Christian-focused student groups weren’t the only ones that were recommended student services fees cuts. The University of Minnesota’s Jewish student center, Hillel, was recommended about half of its $75,000 request because the committee said some of its projects may not relate to the group’s mission.

Hillel’s treasurer, Andrew Lifson, said it can be difficult to define a purpose for a religious group’s events.

“I don’t know if the committee necessarily knows [our] exact purpose,” he said. “They might not see how the events correlate with the purpose of the group.” 

But the committee didn’t struggle with determining the mission of Hillel, Beutel said, as much as whether fees-funded programming fit with it.

“The committee took pretty seriously … that basically what we give money [to a group for] should be in line with that group’s purposes,” he said.

The group requested funding for upgrades to its University Avenue Southeast building this year, Lifson said, which upped Hillel’s total request.

But Beutel said there needed to be a “compelling need” for building upgrades to be factored into the recommendation.

Beutel said when groups’ requests were significantly higher than in past years, the committee tended to question whether the groups could properly handle that amount.

“We cut the same kinds of things for all groups,” he said. “Religious groups just tended to have more of those more consistently than anybody else.”

Lifson said Hillel based its current fees request on its 2012-13 budget. If the committee’s initial recommendation stays, he said Hillel won’t have enough money to put on its planned events, which could stunt its growth.

“We spent it all that year, [and] we thought we’d proved that we can spend it in a good way,” he said, “so we thought we’d be able to get that money.”