Chairman’s actions wound fees committee’s credibility

Every year University student groups seem to find some questionable circumstances about either the Student Services Fees process or the committee charged with administering that process. This year, the question seems to have been provided by the committee’s chairman, Tim Lee.

Lee, the former chairman of Students Against Fees Excess and current president of the Campus Libertarians, sent an e-mail to several members of the fees committee inviting them to an unofficial meeting to discuss funding for Coffman Union. But Lee accidentally sent a copy of the e-mail to someone he did not intend to invite.

After the unintentional recipient forwarded the e-mail to every member of the fees committee, they had a long discussion about it at their next meeting, finally concluding that Lee’s behavior, while not exactly the sort of thing th eir committee chairman should be doing, had been handled well enough among themselves.

However, handling things among themselves is exactly the behavior that they should be avoiding. Members of the fees committee are charged with the monumental task of telling 45,000 students how to spend several hundred dollars of their money, a job undoubtedly made even more difficult by the current economic state of the country and the double-digit tuition increases already taxing students’ bank accounts. In this fiscally and politically charged atmosphere, the last thing that should be happening is clandestine meetings designed to talk about funding a student group before that group even has a chance to present their request.

Such behavior is counterproductive to running a process students can feel good about supporting. The students will ultimately pay the fees and therefore deserve the opportunity to know why and why not they are paying for certain services. Committee hearings and deliberations are public for this very reason. In those hearings, the fees committee represents the student body, not their own interests, as Kristen Moore, president of the Twin Cities Student Unions Board of Governors, rightly said.

Unfortunately, the person who bears the most responsibility for ensuring this – the committee chairman – is the one who called the secret meeting. And though Lee issued a statement saying he remained committed to an open and fair process, his claim is weakened by the question his behavior begs: Was he committed to that in the first place? Open processes do not involve secretive meetings and fair processes do not involve debating the merits of a group’s funding before the group has given its side of the story.

Issues like these have plagued the fees process for the last several years. Its re-emergence this year seems indicative of a need for either a new process or new leadership.