Committee reviews student group funding process

Student leaders are attempting to resolve issues from last year.

Cali Owings

A committee responsible for improving the process through which student groups apply for funding submitted a list of their recommendations to the University of Minnesota’s Office for Student Affairs last week.

Last year, student groups had issues with late applications, appeals, reserves and staff compensation when requesting money out of student services fees.

In May, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart asked student government leaders to explore these areas when recommending changes to the current application process. They created the Student Services Fees Review Committee, made up of representatives of different student groups. The committee submitted an initial copy of their recommendations to the Office for Student Affairs on Aug. 30.

Concerned groups and students will have the opportunity to provide feedback to the committee during public forums on Sept. 13 and 15 at 7 p.m. The committee will submit a final copy of its recommendations to the Office for Student Affairs in October.

Members of the review committee declined to comment until after they have submitted the final report.

Paul Freeman, a University graduate student who served as chairman of the Student Services Fees Committee last year, is glad to see the process being reviewed.

“I feel like a lot of the problems boil down to misunderstanding,” Freeman said, adding that better communication and understanding of the rules would help the fees process run more smoothly.

The administration isn’t ready to throw the fees application process out the window.

 “There will always be issues that come up during the process,” Amelious Whyte, chief of staff in the Office for Student Affairs, said. “But that doesn’t mean the process is broken.”

 

Late applications

To address the issue of late applications, the committee proposed an optional checkpoint system to divide the fees application into parts.

Groups that elect to skip the checkpoint process and still do not make the application deadline would be at risk of being denied funding by the Student Services Fees Committee.

If the review committee’s suggestions are implemented, groups that submit a late application would be allowed to appeal to a separate committee.

The report stated that a minority of committee members felt that with the checkpoint process in place there was “no viable excuse” for late applications and that an appeals process would not be necessary.

Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President Ryan Kennedy said he thought the proposed checkpoint system would make the fees application process easier for student groups. Last year GAPSA submitted a late application and was denied funding by the Student Services Fees Committee.

GAPSA was one of three groups awarded partial funding when Rinehart made changes to the committee’s recommendations. The group was awarded half of their operating budget of $376,000.

This year a GAPSA committee will begin working on their fees application early. By using reserve funds, the group will be able to function for another year without graduate and professional students feeling the strain of the group’s tightened budget, Kennedy said.

While in favor of the recommended checkpoint system, he expressed concern for groups who do not follow the checkpoints but still submit their applications on time.

“Meeting [application checkpoints] should not correlate to a more favorable fees decision,” he said.

 

Built-in flexibility

The review committee also outlined an appeals process so student groups can bring their grievances regarding the amount of funding received or late applications to an appeals committee. The appeals committee would then have the ability to change the final recommendation or uphold the Student Services Fees Committee’s decision.

The report stated that the appeals committee would “negate the need for intervention by the Vice Provost for Student Affairs.”

Freeman said he hopes Rinehart will not have to intervene next year.

“We want to retain control of this process,” he said.

Groups would still be allowed to put up to 10 percent of their budget into a reserve fund for emergencies, but groups requiring more than 10 percent would have to justify their decision during the application process.

The committee, however, suggests eliminating the rule which stated a group could not put more than 30 percent of their budget toward staff compensation. Instead, any group wishing to fund staff would have to prove their case to the Student Services Fees Committee.

Whyte said he agrees with the committees’ reasoning regarding staff and reserves because different groups have different needs. The changes would add flexibility.

“Some folks may have a desire to have rules that are ironclad and that will cover everything,” Whyte said. “It’s too complicated to have one rule that will cover everybody.”