Scrutinizing the group that pays the bills

One of the less well-known processes that the University undergoes each year is the sequence of events that determines the Student Services Fee that appears on most students’ tuition bills. Ultimately approved by the administration, the fee you pay is decided by 19 members of the University community. Thirteen students, three administrative staff and three faculty members make up the Student Services Fees Committee. Broken up into three smaller subcommittees, the fees committee disperses just more than $16.5 million to 37 of the 38 student groups and departmental units that requested fees last year, amounting to $262.48 per student each semester. The fees committee, while not shrouded in secrecy, tends to attract nominal attention by University students, despite the far-reaching impact they have.
My knowledge of the fees committee comes from the extensive involvement I’ve had in it. I was a member of last year’s fees committee, serving on subcommittee two, which reviewed among other groups, Boynton, the Campus Involvement Center, the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group and The Minnesota Daily. Groups can request three different levels of funding. Level I is 10 percent less than the previous year’s amount, a Level II request is for the same amount a group previously received, and Level III is for any amount higher than the previous year’s request. The scheme allows groups some flexibility when making their year by year requests, to adjust to current economic conditions.
One underlying assumption some groups seem to have is that they are owed fees because they have been receiving them in the past. This thinking is erroneous at the very least. Each campus in the University system reviews fees their own way, but our campus’ system of yearly review is a good one, ensuring that groups will use student money wisely. Many mistakenly consider fees a right, when in actuality they are a privilege, something not to be taken lightly.
Organizations that request fees fulfill various roles on campus. Some provide straightforward services such as health care, travel opportunities or legal services. Others fulfill a less definable purpose of creating a ‘marketplace of ideas.’ This marketplace does have an important role on campus, and students should make sure that the marketplace is filled with a myriad of truly diverse viewpoints, made up of people who realize that, on a campus this large, opposing viewpoints should at least be heard, even if they are not respected.
There are many aspects and issues involved within the fees committee that will be exposed and explored in the coming months. The role of the fees committee should not be of interest to only a few students, as the fees committee spends a lot of money, and every student should have some say in where that money is spent. While the fees committee begins exploring the communities within the University, students have an obligation to stay informed about how the committee plans to use our money. All students should have their voice heard, so as to make an impact for this year’s fees process.