Transparency and fairness needed in Student Services Fees process

As a fee-paying student and former subcommittee chairman of the Student Services Fees Committee, I was disgusted to read about the treatment current chairwoman Megan Freeman has received in response to inquiries for publicly available information.

The administrationâÄôs meddling and intimidation tactics are completely unacceptable.

I encountered similar stalling maneuvers last year during my time on the committee: When faced with difficult or “invasive” questions, the administration did exactly what they did this year âÄî declare that it could be a “subject for discussion” next year.

By passing the buck, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart and his cronies are simply hoping that the people raising the difficult questions arenâÄôt on the committee next year.

Case in point: Last year, the SSFC sought to move the Minnesota Daily from the administrative units side to the student groups side (as a registered student organization, it was the only student group that was heard on the administrative side). We were told we couldnâÄôt try to change the process “mid-mid stream,” and we could revisit the idea in the summer.

When pressed, Rinehart and the other administrators refused to discuss the matter, successfully evading a difficult question for another year.

Even more disturbing than the administrationâÄôs intimidation toward a student committee chair (that exists to provide oversight in the fees process) is their suspicious accounting gimmicks. Freeman raises an important question: Why is the fees budget paying for cost shifting?

Unless the fees adviser is getting an enormous raise for their role âÄî which, mind you, takes at most 10 percent of their time âÄî it appears that the Office of Student Affairs is deliberately shifting salary responsibility from their budget to the SSF budget. The current Minnesota Student Association adviser Megan Sweet is the assistant to the chief of staff in the Office of Student Affairs, and fees takes a small percentage of her overall job.

Facing tough budget cuts? What better answer than to simply put it on the studentsâÄô tabs! If this is the kind of accounting going on inside OSA, what other fraud and waste is happening at the University of Minnesota? The SSF budget is set to shoulder $15,313 more in salary and $6,138 more in fringe benefits from 2012-13.

Student fees arenâÄôt some sort of administrative slush fund to help ease the pain of budget cuts across the University.

If staff need to be cut from OSA, then either cut salaries or cut staff. DonâÄôt shift salary burden to fee-paying students. If the administration is to get more than $90,000 in fees, they should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other student group.

The administrative budget has more than $90,000 carryover âÄî many groups were cut by the entire amount of their carryover, and the administrative budget should be no different.

In a time of skyrocketing tuition, we should not be funding a budget that is able to sustain itself for an entire year without help from student fees. They are not somehow special or exempt just because of who they are and who represents them.

I applaud Freeman for demanding answers and taking on the administration in the face of intimidation tactics and questions of her motives and integrity.

To Rinehart and Sweet: Stop stonewalling the committee. Stop using intimidation tactics. Start answering questions, and start being more open with the fee-paying students about where your money is going.

It is not the fault of Freeman that your questionable accounting is coming into question. You all brought this on yourselves.