U considers changing fees process

Tom Ford

In response to an April examination of the student fees process, the University is exploring a new method of distributing fees for student groups subject to University policies.

Following last year’s fees process, a University system-wide task force recommended creating a separate fees committee to evaluate requests by administrative groups that must comply with University financial and employment policies.

Proponents of this change said a new process would simplify those groups’ fees requests and provide them a fairer hearing.

But some members of the groups likely to be included in a separate process said a new committee presents as many dangers as benefits.

Last fall, University Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Jones commissioned a group of University students and staff – the Student Support Fees Work Group – to study altering the process.

Lincoln Kallsen, a work group member and provost office employee, said seven groups are currently being considered for the new process: Boynton Health Service, Twin Cities Student Unions, recreational sports, Summer Cultural Programs, University Student Legal Service, Radio K and the International Study and Travel Center.

Kallsen said the current process prevents those groups from receiving an entirely fair or complete hearing.

“The process is so big and complex right now they can’t do enough training for members to truly understand what rules some groups are subjected to,” he said.

For example, Kallsen said, those groups are obligated to provide annual wage increases to employees because of union contracts the University must honor.

But he said fees committees occasionally have chosen not to fund mandated raises, forcing those groups to reduce other costs or find new revenue sources.

Kallsen, said a new committee’s members could undergo more intensive and specific training about University financial and human resources policies.

Phillip Cole, a work group member and last year’s fees committee chairman, said a new committee – composed of four students and one University staff member – could focus in more depth on seven groups instead of 30.

He said the proposed changes would also simplify fees requests for those groups.

The administrative groups use the College and University Financial System, the University’s accounting system.

But because current fees request applications are not oriented with CUFS, those groups must translate budget information into a different form.

Cole said under a new process those groups wouldn’t have to modify their records for fees requests.

While no binding decisions have been made, Cole said, it’s likely a new process will be implemented in the fall.

Jim Turman, department of
recreational sports director, said staff members already devote large amounts of time to preparing their University budgets, and organizing a fees request budget increases the workload.

Turman said a new process would make fees request preparations more efficient and cost-effective.

“What we’re looking for is just a more streamlined process,” he said.

Linda Aaker, University Student Legal Service director, said that during the past four years the committee hasn’t fully funded unpredictable, but mandated, salary and fringe benefit increases.

The program was able to afford the costs only because of underestimates in enrollment figures, which generated additional income, she said.

But Aaker expressed concern over the control of a new committee.

While students would apparently fill four of five committee seats, she said, initial plans called for more University staff participation.

“I guess I have a concern of making sure this is student fees money to be set by students,” she said.

Edward Ehlinger, director of Boynton Health Service, said there are additional concerns.

“You’re going to have fewer people making decisions about larger budgets,” Ehlinger said.

He said while a smaller committee would allow Boynton to better interact with members and possibly present its request multiple times, it poses risks.

“If somebody had a particular issue with one of our programs or had an agenda, they would have a bigger impact and there would be fewer students to offset that,” he said.

He said the current process has been fair to Boynton, and he isn’t convinced the overhaul will solve any problems.

“(The change) is not something I’m either for or against,” he said.

Representatives of The Minnesota Daily have met with members of the work group, asking to be included in the new process.

But Kallsen said the Daily does not meet the current criteria for including groups because the University has no formal policy ties with the newspaper or oversight over its finances.

The purpose of a new committee is for its members to better understand University regulations to which the Daily is not subjected, Kallsen said.

But Ben Blair, the Daily’s public relations director, said while the paper does not have formal obligations to the University or use CUFS, it provides crucial services to students.

Blair said the Daily manages a $2 million budget, and he believes the paper’s request warrants more careful consideration.

He said the Daily will wait for Jones to approve the changes. If he does, Blair said the paper will ask to be folded into the new process.

Kallsen said aside from the Daily, he doesn’t know of any additional groups not already included in the proposal that are interested in switching from the current process.

Work group members expect to finalize their recommendation in March and present it to Jones.

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