Low student interest affects fees committee

Tom Ford

Although they constitute 52 percent of University students, only twice have women composed more than one-third of the Student Services Fees Committee in the past seven years.

This year’s committee is no exception.

Of 13 members, only one student, Judy Yang, is a woman. As a Chinese American, she is also the only minority.

Former and current committee members said imbalances in representation are unfortunate and restrict the number of viewpoints brought to the fees process.

But they said diversity concerns are symptomatic of a larger problem of little interest in committee membership among all University students. This keeps applicant pools low and hamstrings the selection process.

Brian Wiedenmeier, a former committee member, said diversity has always been an issue, and its absence limits the scope of discussion among members.

“Through a diverse makeup in a group, you have a more dynamic discussion because more viewpoints and backgrounds are brought into it,” Wiedenmeier said. “Things are considered that may or may not have been considered before.”

However, he said, regardless of a person’s gender or ethnicity, being a committee member taxes a student’s time and pocketbook.

Since none of the members receive compensation for service, he said, many students can’t afford the commitment in lieu of a part-time job.

Mary Amundson, fees commit-tee adviser, said besides economic issues there’s often a demand for minority student leaders in University cultural centers and groups, which can keep those students away from fees committee membership.

Amundson said she doesn’t have any explanation for the lack of women on the committee.

While she expressed disappointment in the diversity of this year’s committee, she said members benefit from diversity training provided each year by the University.

Nasreen Mohamed, program associate in the University’s Diversity Institute, conducted the training of this year’s committee.

In a two-hour session she said she tried to teach members ways to make equitable decisions about people or groups with whom they aren’t familiar.

Kevin Ehlert, a current member, said despite ethnically homogeneous makeups, committees often have diversity in political views.

Ehlert said most members are heavily involved in the University, which leads to dedicated committees.

But he said awareness of the committee process remains low, and diversity concerns are part of a larger problem of apparent apathy among students.

“More students need to know about the process and take it upon themselves to be part of the committee,” he said.

Every fall a selection committee composed of two representatives each from the Minnesota Student Association and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly accepts applications and selects the fees committee members.

While committee membership is open to all University students, usually between 15 and 35 applications are received each year, said Patrick Pederson, GAPSA president.

Pederson said there have been years when there were barely enough applicants to field a full committee.

Pederson blames the lack of interest in part on an aversion to the heavy time commitments and the absence of a sense of campus community.

“Students just don’t think fees affect them,” he said.

Each year full-page ads are placed in The Minnesota Daily, and extensive information is sent to student groups about committee involvement, he said.

But Pederson said these promotional efforts do not appear effective, and he doesn’t believe there’s more the University or student organizations could do to increase interest.

“Who we get is who we get,” he said.