The flaws of the Fees Committee

Most students at the University of Minnesota donâÄôt know what the Student Services Fees Committee is. I did not know until my senior year, when I watched the committee work both as a member of the student groups section of the committee, and as an officer in a fees-applying organization. It was my best opportunity to see the workings of the committee, which allocates millions of dollars of student money each year.
I saw that the system is flawed, though not for the reasons everyone may think. Some accused the committee of racism after its denial of the Black Student UnionâÄôs request based on a bad audit from the year before. Others suggested it was homophobic for its denial of the Queer Student Cultural CenterâÄôs late application.
None of these accusations are true at all. The committee had solid grounds for both decisions and followed the rules in making them. Harsh? Maybe, but each denial carried merit.
The problem with the committee is that it is very good at enforcing the rules, but if applying groups follow the rules, the committee is virtually powerless to deny or reduce a request.  This has opened the door for a record number of groups to come to the fees committee for requests, expecting students to foot the bill for their programs and services. Each year, more rules and recommendations are put in place, but as long as groups follow those rules, they are virtually untouchable. Student organizations hold the power âÄî that is the fundamental issue.
My student organization was not large by any means. We had put on several speaking events with modest attendance funded by Coca-Cola grants and non-student admissions. Our fees request was our first, so we asked others who had gone through the process for guidance. We were told to ask for as much as we could. There was no harm in shooting for the moon âÄî at the worst, the committee would do its job and make a lower recommendation.
We did so, and much to my surprise, we were initially awarded the lionâÄôs share of our request. I immediately started thinking about what my group was going to do with its award and the long-term ramifications if it failed to deliver. The committee is somewhat decent at holding groups to their previous yearâÄôs promises through audits. It was my senior year; I didnâÄôt want to be responsible for crippling my group for future students.
At the final deliberations, I got up in front of the committee and explained that while I believed in the good of our programming events, some of the requested items âÄî office space and utilities, for example âÄî were not needs, but nice things to have. It was like I had to give the committee permission to deny certain things from our request.
The committee gives awards based on need. If a group can provide its own funds for things, it will not be rewarded, but if it canâÄôt, then it will be. A group simply has to prove that it cannot pay for things it would like to have and the committee, even with the best-intentioned people, figuratively throws its hands up and gives in, not wanting to appear biased or inconsistent. Student groups are catching on and making enormous requests, knowing that there is at least a chance they will be granted.
I personally believe that there should be no committee at all because it serves only as a redistribution of wealth. Those who take advantage of many student group programs gain, and those who take advantage of few or none lose. I believe students should be able to choose which groups, if any, their money should go to via dues, donations, etc.
However, there are many who believe a university has a place in funding activities for its student body, even if it means rewarding some studentsâÄô groups with other studentsâÄô dollars.  If this is how it is going to be, then there needs to be one rule that regulates the flow of money, and that is a hard âÄúaward capâÄù on all groups âÄî I would suggest an arbitrary figure of $25,000 âÄî with no exceptions. Regardless of the actual number, if a group uses its money wisely, it will be rewarded with future awards. If it doesnâÄôt, the damage is not as bad.
I feel I have done my part to show how open the student fees system is to abuse. It is now up to University students to ask how that line on their tuition bills is actually benefitting them.