Groups defend using fees money for food

Jens Krogstad

Many student group leaders said offering food to hungry students is a powerful drawing force for their organizations.

Unlike the University, many Big Ten schools do not allow student groups to use student fees money for food, and some people on campus feel spending students’ money on food is irresponsible.

At the University, current fees-receiving groups allotted approximately 11 percent of their budgets for food next year, about $223,401. This school year, those same groups spent $187,176.02 on food, according to their Student Services Fees applications.

Minnesota Student Association Forum meetings regularly start about 10 minutes late as hungry students get in line to grab some grub.

MSA Forum attendance has risen from 30 members in its first meeting – when there was no food – to more than 100 members with food, an increase MSA President Eric Dyer attributes to the presence of a good meal.

The Disabled Student Cultural Center said its Friday event “Music Mayhem” usually draws about 10 students, but when it provides food once a month attendance shoots up to approximately 40.

“My experience with events at this campus is that if you don’t provide food for events, not that many people show up,” Dyer said.

In the case of cultural centers such as the Hillel Jewish Student Center, food is an essential part of the rituals, prayers and holidays for Jews, Hillel treasurer Sarah Stein said.

The center serves foods such as matzo ball soup – chicken broth with dumplings – and purim, a type of cookie.

“The food is the heart of our culture,” she said. “And it’s a really easy way to share our culture with the larger campus.”

Martin Andrade, Students for Family Values president, said he uses the group’s fees for food but he favors not allowing fees money to go for that purpose.

“I admit that I do it, but we probably shouldn’t allow it,” said Andrade, who is the MSA Forum speaker. “If you open it up there can be a lot of abuses in buying food. In the end, we’re probably better to try to change that.”

Although food is often a category on groups’ fees requests, it is difficult to determine exactly how much student fees were spent on food.

MSA did not budget any food for this year or the upcoming year, but Dyer decided to take money from a special events fund this year to provide the Forum food. So far, MSA has spent $1,481 on food, he said.

There are some groups, such as the Como Community Child Care Center, that receive most of their income from sources other than student fees, so student fees for those groups are not necessarily spent on food.

But the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and most of the fees-receiving student cultural centers get most of their money from student fees.

In the student groups sub-committee recommendation released yesterday, both GAPSA and Al-Madinah Cultural Center were recommended to receive less than they requested, in part because the presiding subcommittee disapproved of significant increases in their food budgets.

Many Big Ten schools do not allow student groups to ask for money for food from student fees, including Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin universities.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose fees process most closely resembles Minnesota’s, does not allow student groups to use the money on food for student group meetings, said Eileen Lalor, student fees task force co-chairwoman.

Eric Bagley, University of Iowa’s Budgeting and Finance Committee chairman, said the food cost is prohibitive.

“Everyone wants to have food and it’s a high cost,” he said.

The only exception was that the nine groups with the highest fees are allowed to ask for money for banquets, Bagley said.

The University of Michigan does not usually fund food, with the exception of something such as an American Indian cultural event, said Greg Graves, the school’s Budget Priorities Committee chairman.

“There was a time when there was a lot of problems with people buying food for themselves or throwing parties with the money,” he said.