Fees members

Travis Reed

Several members of the University’s fees committee drew criticism last week for allegedly failing to disclose a conflict of interest on their committee applications.
Four University students contacted several University officials and members of the fees committee Thursday about some members’ involvement in Students Against Fee Excess, a fiscally conservative student group outspoken in their opposition to the student services fees.
The students say five of the 13 committee members have been involved with SAFE but failed to mention their connection with the organization despite extensively chronicling their involvement in several less controversial groups.
The students say those committee members formerly involved with SAFE cannot be objective about funding for the Minneapolis Public Interest Research Group because the organization has always opposed MPIRG funding and was founded specifically as an anti-MPIRG group.
They called for the members to abstain from voting on MPIRG.
“I don’t think it’s fair that they didn’t disclose information about being involved with an organization that’s known to be opposed to one of the groups they’re supposed to be evaluating,” said Michael Rentz, a University graduate student who co-wrote the complaints.
Rentz was one of seven applicants not selected to serve as a full committee member or alternate. He says he was not chosen because he disclosed previous involvement with MPIRG on his application. He is no longer a member of MPIRG.
The charges are the latest blow for the embattled committee members, who narrowly missed removal from the committee in November when a Minnesota Student Association motion to rescind their appointment failed by two votes.
The five accused committee members would not comment on the allegations except to say they will be reviewed by the committee as a whole.
“This is something the fees committee has addressed,” said Jesse Berglund, committee chair and one of the students with SAFE ties. “We’re not taking it lightly, and we’re looking at getting it resolved by the middle of next week.”
As a result of the allegations, hearings scheduled for Monday regarding the status of MPIRG funding have been postponed until the issue is resolved.
Though the charges were sent to several University officials, resolution at this time is out of administrative hands, says Jane Canney, associate vice president of student development and athletics.
“It’s a message to the student services fees committee; it’s up to them to address the issues,” Canney said. “The process may need to be examined, but MSA and GAPSA are doing that right now.”
Canney also added that the process has great integrity, and the administrative fees committee rarely chooses not to accept the student committee recommendations.
SAFE members deny having a particular conflict with MPIRG and say students on the committee who are involved with fee-funded groups have a more pronounced conflict.
“Everybody who applies to the committee has some kind of belief about the way fees should go,” said Jo Janssens, SAFE member. “SAFE is not an anti-MPIRG organization — at this point in time, anyway.”
But some MPIRG officials say SAFE’s past makes their defense hard to swallow.
“We hope the members of SAFE do the right thing, but we have to be suspicious of their motives when they’ve so clearly been opponents of MPIRG,” said Lea Schuster, MPIRG executive director. “It’s hard to believe they’ve changed their ideology this quickly.”
Schuster said the complaints will be examined at the next board meeting to evaluate the possibility of official MPIRG action.
The Minnesota Daily receives annual funding through student services fees.

Travis Reed covers environment and transit and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.