Fees Committee endangers GAPSA

Graduate students cannot allow a fees snafu to end their government.

by Kristi Kremers

Imagine the University of Minnesota without a graduate and professional student system of governance. There would be no travel grants for over 300 students, no socials, no money for 10 graduate and professional school councils, no funding for over 100 student organizations and groups, no student representation at orientations, no say in tuition and budget issues, no positive changes in legislation and policy and no graduate school. And most importantly, no official graduate and professional student voice on campus. This is precisely the decision the Fees Committee has unilaterally made in not hearing the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GAPSA) fees request submitted one business day after the deadline. The Fees Committee is unwilling to hear the extenuating circumstances that led to our late submission, and the decision will have a grave impact on the 25,000 graduate and professional students at the University of Minnesota. GAPSA is not just a student organization; it is a funding superstructure for our 10-member councils and numerous student organizations. GAPSA has an excellent track record in its 20-year history, it is the only student organization to undergo an external audit process by its own volition and it was recognized this fall as the âÄúOrganization of the YearâÄù by the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students for our programs, services and advocacy. It is unimaginable to have the University campus without a strong student government. In his letter to The Minnesota Daily yesterday, Fees Committee Chairman Paul Freeman outlined the rationale of the decision based upon a misinterpretation of the principle of viewpoint neutrality. Viewpoint neutrality does not dismiss the Fees Committee from its responsibility to the student body to examine and take into account the impact a student organization has on the student body. In fact, this is the primary guiding principles for examining fees requests. This interpretation of viewpoint neutrality collapses the judgment of the Fees Committee down to a merely mechanistic: âÄúDid they follow the rules?âÄù The definition of viewpoint neutrality needs to be accurately attended to. Moreover, telling students to direct their anger at GAPSA is futile. Ultimately, the Fees Committee is the decision-maker and should carefully use this power to do what is best for the student body and the University community at large. One of the guiding principles of the Student Services Fees Committee is to see that âÄúfee-supported programs, activities and services [shall] be provided to all students assessed the fee.âÄù Hence, students assessed the GAPSA Fee should receive services targeted to Graduate and Professional students. Student Fees Committee decision-making guidelines focus on funding organizations due to the impact they have on the University community by providing a service, supplementing the academic curriculum and helping to foster a sense of community on campus. These guidelines go on to discuss the quality and quantity of programs and services. GAPSA is the only organization that has the capacity to provide the breadth of services to Graduate and Professional students across academic departments or units. When we were initially informed that all late applications would be outright denied without examining their merits, we were assured that we would have the opportunity to appeal. However, there is no formal appeals process for our concerns. It is startling that no such procedure is outlined in the handbook and each year it is at the discretion of the Fees Committee Chair on how a conflict/appeal is handled. Furthermore, the nonbinding resolutions that should guide the Fees Committee are outdated with the most relevant resolution to GAPSAâÄôs concern outlining the âÄúHandling of Late Fees Requests.âÄù The policy references a nonexistent office, the Campus Involvement Center, which is charged with handling cases such as ours. This is just one example of numerous out-of-date guidelines and procedures. A human error has occurred, but in the absence of up-to-date policies and procedures, a formal appeals process and a commitment to the core values which are outlined in their own documents, the Fees Committee is endangering the quality of student life on our campuses. Kristi Kremers GAPSA president University graduate student