Annual fees process ignites campus politics

Jens Krogstad

Every February, student groups put on their fees boxing gloves and protective headgear to ask for money from the Student Services Fees Committee.

The fees committee’s process to determine funding will begin when subcommittee deliberations start this weekend.

Those familiar with the fees process say it is like a heavyweight boxing match during which verbal punches are thrown, egos are bruised and feelings are hurt.

Despite the political bickering, it is an important process, said Brian Wiedenmeier, last year’s student fees committee chairman.

“If you’re a political animal and you like the nuts and bolts of politics, that’s the place to be,” he said. “But it needs to be taken seriously.”

Already this year, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly voted sophomore Mark Annis off the committee; the University reinstated him after he complained he was discriminated against because of his conservative views.

Campus Republicans are questioning a University decision to deny them funding because of their political affiliation and are considering legal action. Last fall, University officials denied the University DFL money for the same reason. Dan Nelson, Campus Republicans president, is also an administrative fees committee member.

GAPSA and the Minnesota Student Association debated whether to remove Lindsay Brown after he wrote an opinion column in the Daily condemning homosexuality. Brown is now chairman of the student groups fees committee and was on the committee last year.

All of this, and the hearings and public forums – where most of the heated debate takes place – have yet to begin.

But this year is no different from others, Wiedenmeier said. He recalled the 2001 fees committee when former Daily President Kevin Nicholson threatened to sue the fees committee.

“He had his panties in a bunch because he thought we were violating his constitutional rights,” Wiedenmeier said. “It was kind of silly and one of the best examples of biting the hand that feeds you.”

Brown said that last year The Wake was the most hotly debated student group. He said the decision to fund the campus publication concerned him because it opened the door for other papers to apply for funds.

“Unlimited amount of newspapers could apply for fees and the committee would be hard-pressed to deny them because you can’t deny them on viewpoint grounds,” he said.

Last year’s final recommendations report showed that The Wake received funding on a 6-5 vote, the closest of any group last year.

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group and Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow are criticized annually because they collect their money by check-off fees when students register for classes.

Brown said one problem with the fees process is that not enough students know about it.

“No one knows what the student fees is, and I think if they knew exactly where their money would go, they would be less apt to fund it,” he said. “So I encourage all members of the student body to go to public hearings and make your voice known.”

Wiedenmeier said another source of problems for the fees process is political biases of committee members. As a result, he said, Queer Student Cultural Center and the Women’s Student Activist Collective are usually targeted for fees reductions.

“Politically, there’s always going to be conservatives who think mandatory fees in general are a bad idea and target certain groups,” he said.

He said this view is flawed because it ignores the valuable

services that student groups and organizations such as Boynton Health Service provide.

He said cutting student groups, in which most of the debate takes place, makes a minimal impact because most student fees money goes to administrative services such as the recreation center and Boynton.

“When you talk about cutting cultural centers, you’re talking about cutting pennies,” he said. “If people really are interested in lowering your fees, you’ll get more bang for your buck by cutting administrative fees,” he said.