Fees panel finalizes recommendations

Tom Ford

Controversy surrounding a secret meeting Student Services Fees Committee Chairman Tim Lee organized to discuss his opposition to the high costs of Coffman Union sharpened Saturday after he twice cast the deciding vote against boosting funds for the group.

Frequently divided into one- or two-vote majorities during daylong deliberations, the committee finalized its fees recommendations, amending funding levels for 11 student groups, including the student union.

In addition, the committee reversed its decision calling for a change in special assessment funding mechanisms for groups such as the Student Legislative Coalition.

During discussion of the Twin Cities Student Unions bond payment and operating budgets, some committee members proposed increased funding recommendations – which had stood hundreds of thousands of dollars below levels the unions requested – to the full amounts.

On both occasions, a 7-7 split formed among members. As chairman, Lee broke the ties, voting both times against the increased funding.

After recommendations were set for TCSU, committee member Lee Andrzejewski expressed concern over the chairman’s votes in light of his previous criticism of the Coffman project.

Some committee members defended Lee, saying he’s not alone in voicing an opinion on a group.

Following the deliberations, Lee said he wasn’t obligated to be neutral to TCSU and had the right to vote the way he did. He also denied the secret meeting he organized affected the outcome.

“The issue with the secret meeting was one of procedure and decorum on my part,” he said. “It wasn’t an issue of disqualifying me or putting me into any conflict of interest.”

But Kristen Moore, president of the TCSU Board of Governors, said she doubted the process’ fairness, despite assurances Lee offered to the unions following his meeting.

“I don’t know how Lee can say he took a neutral stance when he organized the meeting before our budget presentation,” Moore said.

The committee increased funding for TCSU’s capital and operating requests, but total amounts for the union’s three budgets fall approximately $1 million below amounts sought.

Moore said the increases won’t dramatically lessen the blow on the unions. She said severe cuts, such as a 90 percent programming reduction, remain likely.

After initially recommending reductions, committee members increased funding for University Young Women and the Asian American Student Cultural Center to a level two amount, which equals what the groups received last year.

But other cultural groups weren’t so fortunate.

In two 8-7 votes, the committee recommended a fees decrease to the Africana and Disabled Student cultural centers of more than $9,000 and $7,000, respectively.

Committee member Doug Karle said Africana representatives’ assertions that the group couldn’t survive after any funding reductions indicates a lack of fiscal responsibility.

Karle said, in comparison to staff and office rent expenses, the center doesn’t spend enough on programming, and he proposed a complete funding cut for the group.

But committee member Kevin Ehler said Africana is a “cornerstone” on campus and cutting fees contradicts efforts to make a group more active.

“I think we all agree that if we don’t fund a student group they’re not going to be able to do programming,” Ehlert said.

While its allocating totaled more than $90,000 below its request, Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow received $30,000 from the fees committee after members denied any funding in initial recommendations.

“It’s not what we expected, but at the same time it’s a victory,” said CFACT President Philip Kroll.

In its request and at last week’s public hearings, the conservative lobbying group repeatedly defined itself as an alternative to the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which CFACT members say is a liberal organization.

Several committee members advocated that idea.

“CFACT fights for the environment in a different way than MPIRG,” said member Marty Andrade.

He said members should encourage the group’s alternative outlook rather than stymieing its efforts.

But other members opposed any funding amount for the group. A motion to maintain the previous recommendation to not fund CFACT failed by two votes.

Andy Pomroy, a fees committee member, said the group hasn’t demonstrated a history of fiscal responsibility and disputed that CFACT enhances the marketplace of ideas.

“I think (the marketplace) already exists within most student groups,” he said. “We shouldn’t specifically fund a group because of its viewpoint.”

CFACT will be funded through special assessment fees with the negative checkoff system, which charges fees when students register unless they refuse to fund the group.

After debate, the committee reversed its initial recommendation to fund MPIRG, SLC and a Graduate and Professional Student Assembly events fund through a neutral mechanism.

This system assesses students fees only if they support funding the group.

Last week, University Vice President and Provost Robert Jones said he would not change the mechanism.

Committee member Ted Higman said a neutral system would devastate a group’s funding.

While he said he’d prefer a mandatory fee, Higman said, under the current mechanism most students can’t educate themselves about a group, and it’s up to the committee to endorse the group or not by way of the system’s default setting.

But member Tyler Richter said it was “abhorrent” that members backed down from the committee’s stance in favor of a switch. In a letter last week responding to Jones’ decision, Richter said the current system is against the students’ best interests and is “inherently misleading and unfair.”

The committee set funding at $31,875 for the Minnesota International Student Association after delaying a recommendation since Feb. 20.

This level is more than $20,000 less than MISA’s funding last year. Members decreased funding in response to the group’s failure to submit adequate budget information in time and because of internal disputes revealed to the committee within the last few days.

Besides the funding level, members also recommended a group of University faculty and staff, unaffiliated with international programs, oversee the group for at least a year.

A final public hearing will occur March 12 before University administrators, who can amend final committee recommendations. The Board of Regents must approve the
funding.