Fees rules, rescues and remedies

Fees shortcomings pave the way for increased student governance.

Now that the dust has settled over the Student Services Fees Committee windstorm, IâÄôd like to remind groups that itâÄôs not every year they meet such a tough committee. Students pay thousands to attend this University, though, and every dollar scrutinized by the process is a dollar more effectively spent. Groups must take the fees process seriously; after all, weâÄôre talking in millions. The SSFC, for its part, must grant groups more than two days to appeal, especially in light of the complexity of the process and fees criteria. By volume, the greatest concern this year was the SSFCâÄôs denial of late applications. The Minnesota International Student Association, Bharat, the Graduate and Professional Student Association and the Somali Student Association all applied late for fees money, and were sent the following in an email by Student Organizations Fees Committee Chair Paul Freeman: âÄúWe regret to inform you that the committee âĦ has made a decision that no group submitting a late application will be heard âĦ[But] to ensure a fair and equitable process for all, consistent application of the rules must be enforced âĦ [Your group] has the option to appeal this matter. Please contact Erich Martin should you choose to pursue that course of action.âÄù The crux of controversy is that this yearâÄôs fees committee thoroughly enforced the guidelines as laid out by Regents and campus policy. ItâÄôs tough to fault a committee chairman like Mr. Freeman, who told the Daily, âÄúLook, I have a philosophy coming into this which is the rules are the rules, and they should be followed. They should have meaning; theyâÄôre not just flexible and bendable and dispensed with whenever itâÄôs inconvenient.âÄù Most of the groups appealed and eventually got funding. It was the number and prominence of groups who appealed âÄî the Daily, GAPSA, MPIRG âÄî that put Vice Provost Jerry Rinehart in a tough public position. In an interview yesterday, Rinehart explained that he funded roughly âÄú50 percent of the previous yearâÄôs allocationâÄù to most appealing student groups. While 50 percent is a logical compromise, itâÄôs awfully arbitrary. In the end, some of his decisions raised questions of their own. He said of the Somali Student Association that âÄúThere wasnâÄôt any precedent for [them], so I didnâÄôt feel it was appropriate to allocate student fees to them, but in order to confirm that theyâÄôd done a lot of good work, I decided that we would use some discretionary funds to provide them some level of support.âÄù In fact, there is a precedent. On April 14, 2008, the American Indian Student Cultural Center (AISCC) received an email from Rinehart explaining that theyâÄôd been awarded a $25,000 forgivable loan out of University discretionary funds. The group had been denied student fees because, as Rinehart admits in the email, the fees âÄúcommittee was very concerned that [the] group was unable to follow the guidelines and procedures that govern the fees proposal process that all other organizations were required to meet.âÄù With cases like the Somali Student Association and AISCC, one wonders whether the fees process is needed at all. Why donâÄôt groups just tell Rinehart how important they are and wait for a check? Paul Freeman argues that âÄúBecause bad behavior is permitted, news spreads, and it encourages groups to continue to fail to meet requirements. ItâÄôs a problem of not clearly, consistently, objectively enforce the rules.âÄù Again, RinehartâÄôs put in a tough position. Some, however, like student leader Kevin Wendt, feel he doesnâÄôt need to be. In the spring of âÄô09, then GAPSA Vice President of Grants Kevin Wendt brought legislation to the Minnesota Student Association, where heâÄôd been speaker for three years, and to GAPSA, to establish a Student Supreme Court. The motion failed, largely because student leaders could not conceive of when or why the court could be helpful. Under WendtâÄôs proposal, a five-student court would adjudicate on disputes in three areas of student governance: Student Services Fees appeals, All Campus Elections appeals and GAPSA and MSA rule enforcement. âÄúBeing that itâÄôs a student process, distributing student money, it should be another student group or organization that would handle appeals. It should not go to administration to sign off on how to distribute our money âĦ I still think itâÄôs a good idea.âÄù MSA President Paul Strain said yesterday, âÄúIf we had shared governance, and with the fees process, I feel like the Student Supreme Court could be applied and could be necessary.âÄù The vice provost did not appear earnestly intrigued by the threat to his fee authority, âÄúThatâÄôs an interesting idea. It doesnâÄôt resonate with me in a whole lot of ways; likely it would be filled with politics. I donâÄôt think our appeals process âĦ is flawed. I think itâÄôs appropriate that someone whoâÄôs been here in the long term has an opportunity to weigh in. Students by nature are short term residents.âÄù Indeed, possibly because they go broke in transit. Rinehart cited four avenues for SSFC improvement: 1) an explicit appeals process for late applications; 2) definitions and clarification of reserve requirements (see last weekâÄôs column on fees); 3) clarification of the restriction regarding no more than 30 percent of an organizations budget can be tied to compensation and benefits, and development of criteria for exemption from this requirement and; 4) an opportunity for organizations to address the SSFC if there is a significant reduction in recommended funding between the committeeâÄôs preliminary and final recommendations. RinehartâÄôs concerns mirror my own, although in the end, itâÄôs essential that when possible students manage their own money and affairs. If student groups were not allowed to wait, as the Daily headlined, for âÄúRinehart to the rescue,âÄù then perhaps they would take their own leadership responsibilities to heart and learn a little more about governance in the process. John Brown welcomes comments at [email protected]