In Defense of the Office for Student Affairs

Several articles over the past week have sharply criticized Vice Provost Jerry Rinehart and fees adviser Meagan Sweet for their role in the Student Services Fees Process. As a member of last summerâÄôs Student Services Fees Review Committee, as well as an applicant for fees for several student organizations, I believe these attacks are unfair and unjustified.
The fees process is necessarily complex and imperfect. Since most applicants are undergraduate students âÄî not attorneys or accountants âÄî errors and mistakes are inevitably a part of the process.
The overwhelming majority of applicants are satisfied with the results of the process, while a handful of groups each year understandably are dissatisfied with the outcome.
Mediating the concerns of the committee and student groups has become a responsibility of the Office for Student Affairs. When errors left critically important student groups without funding last year, Rinehart wisely intervened and offered reasonable support for these groups. At the same time, Rinehart aptly charged a review committee comprised of students and administrators to address structural concerns within the fees process. Many of our recommendations were adopted.
When the committee indicated that there were additional issues that needed review outside the scope of our charge, Rinehart suggested that a larger, more expansive review of the process be initiated in the summer of 2011. This is welcomed.
This year, when conservative student organizations hijacked the fees process and doled out tens of thousands of dollars of student money to far right-wing student groups âÄî such as $100,000 for a global warming denier front group to bring George W. Bush to campus for a conservative rally âÄî Rinehart did little to intervene, although I believe he could have done more to prevent such a partisan takeover of the committee.
The latest controversy is the suggestion that the OSA has engaged in âÄúfees-shifting,âÄù or using fees money to cover a departmental shortfall. This is nonsense. Fees adviser Sweet spends a great deal of her time training, advising and managing the fees committees. Using fees revenue to pay some of her modest salary is reasonable, especially because it amounts to a very minimal component of the overall fees budget.
In my interactions, Rinehart and his Chief of Staff Amelious Whyte have been polite, honest and frank in their interaction with students and have always been willing to meet with students to discuss legitimate concerns regarding the fees process or other issues.
It is clear to me that the largest problem affecting the fees process is not the OSA, but rather overzealous students seeking to pervert the fees process for conservative political goals.