Student fees battle begins

JP Leider

By the end of this academic year, students taking more than six credits will have paid $581.64 each in Student Services Fees.

The fees help fund a host of student organizations and administrative units, from the Minnesota International Student Association to Radio K.

Starting today groups begin presentations to the student-run Student Services Fees Committee, which will recommend how much funding each group should receive.

Student Services Fees increased a little more than $15 from last year ” from $275.79 to $290.82 each semester.

Administrative units such as Boynton Health Service, University Student Legal Service and the Daily are requesting a total of about $22.6 million for 2006-2007.

That makes the total amount requested $24.3 million, the most yet.

Over the next two weeks, committee members will hear groups and decide whether to trim the request.

Presentations are a crucial part of the fees process, said former committee chairman Steve Wang, because it is the only time fees committee members can put a face on a group they are considering.

Being able to answer the committee’s questions ” both programming and financial ” is the key to success, he said.

“In my experience, groups that lacked (preparation) were not looked on that favorably by the committee ” when we had questions, they didn’t have answers,” he said.

After a storied conclusion to the fees process last year, where Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for Student Affairs, overturned several recommendations from fees committees, the administration made changes to the process that proponents argued would increase the ability of committee members to remain viewpoint-neutral.

Student Organizations Chairman Henry Hewes said viewpoint-neutrality ” not letting one’s preconceived opinions or biases impact decisions ” is the most important requirement of a committee member.

“It has to be the most important thing because you can’t have personal opinion influence how you’re going to allocate student fees,” he said. “As the chairman of the student fees committee and as anyone on the student fees committee, we are responsible for being a voice for all the students.”

And, Hewes said, because committee members are responsible for determining whether funding a group would add value to the University community, a subjective perspective would “completely destroy the purpose of our committee.”

Rinehart said he hopes the changes to the process will make it less stressful for everyone involved.

He said it likely still will be contentious.

“Whenever you’re allocating money and there’s not enough to go around, there are people who are going to be dissatisfied and concerned,” he said.

What the fees committee has done, he said, is to address some of the concerns about not having enough or accurate information to make decisions.

“The changes we’ve made capture better information, but nonetheless there will still be decisions, and those are always difficult.”