Group examines use of funding

Tracy Ellingson

“More bang for the buck” was the clichÇ and the objective Saturday when the Student Services Fees Committee met to make its initial deliberations for funding campus organizations.
The 15-member committee spent nearly 11 hours discussing how to keep next year’s student services fees low and still provide organizations with enough money to run quality programs. Even though the committee passed subcommittees’ initial recommendations, it discussed the possibility of using a positive check-off system for some organizations.
During the meeting, the committee reviewed its three subcommittees’ recommendations for allocation of the fees. Subcommittee members, whom earlier heard the presentations of 34 organizations that submitted fee requests, released their first recommendations last week. The recommendations all passed with only a few amendments and changes in rationale.
“The question is, how much bang are we getting for the buck?” said committee member Jim Hilt during a discussion over the Student Legislative Coalition, a student lobbying group. “How is the need of having students at the Legislature being met by the group?”
The coalition’s request prompted the first of many discussions regarding how effectively groups are using the money the fees committee grants them every year. Fee-receiving groups accept a portion of tuition every quarter from each undergraduate student taking at least six credits.
But the coalition is one of two organizations funded voluntarily, another issue the group discussed throughout the day.
When students register, they can elect to not pay the fee for the coalition, which this year is $1.81 per quarter. But in order to receive an automatic refund for the fee, students must request it when registering. If students do not request a refund, the fee will be automatically assessed.
The other organization funded on a negative check-off basis is the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. Students are given the option to fund these two groups because they often represent views in which many students might not believe.
Subcommittee Chair Bill Gilles called the current negative check-off system unfair because so many students — 36 percent, according to a fees committee survey — do not realize they have the option not to pay.
“The current system takes advantage of students who don’t understand (the system) … and I consider that a fraudulent practice,” he said.
Gilles recommended that the fees committee give students the option to pay fees for these organizations rather than giving them the option not to pay them.
The check-off debate is not new. Third-year member Matt Curry said some discussion over the system has come up every year he’s been on the committee. But, he added, this year’s committee members have pushed the issue much more than in the past when members would quickly end discussion on the issue.
“I was happy that people were at least talking about it for once,” said Curry, who said he agrees that changing the system is necessary.
Some committee members questioned whether students should have the option of funding other organizations that have political biases.
Discussion on funding the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Student Organization and Their Friends led to a dispute in the committee when a few members said that some students’ religious beliefs are in conflict with the group’s ideology.
Subcommittee Chair Jennifer Halko said for this reason students should not be required to pay fees to the organization.
But other members expressed concern about switching organizations to positive check-off funding because potential financial cuts would adversely affect them. One group that may be affected would be the GLBT association, which receives the lowest funding of any group on campus at 22 cents per student.
The committee also discussed cutting down on students’ costs by providing a partial refund to students that do not use Boynton Health Service and are covered by their parents’ or other insurance companies. Students currently pay $62.48 per quarter for the health service.
Both the check-off debate and the Boynton discussion were tabled and will be dealt with later in the fees process.
Committee members will discuss both subjects again during the final deliberations next Saturday or during the resolution process, in which non-binding resolutions are written as recommendations to next year’s fees committee.