Fees funding hurdles trip some up, groups say

Some hobby and special interest groups want to reform the process.

by Andrew Johnson

When student groups applied for fees money earlier this year, no group asked for more than Campus People Watchers.
Its $1 trillion request was intended to serve as a statement about the Student Services Fees CommitteeâÄôs procedures, especially in regards to special interest and hobby groups.
âÄúInitially, we were asking for an absurd amount because the process is absurd,âÄù said David Shaffer, president of Campus People Watchers.
Along with leaders of other student groups that reflect more specified interests, Shaffer, a senior, has looked for ways to make the system fairer since he first started Campus People Watchers his freshman year. From grants to viewpoint neutrality, leaders want change that will level the playing field.
Recently, Shaffer has been campaigning to change a rule requiring that student groups exist for two years before they receive any student fees.
It costs $25 to register as a student group, but that fee doesnâÄôt help pay for activity fairs, which are useful for recruiting new members and cost an additional $10 per fair.
Shaffer said he has paid more than $200 just to keep Campus People Watchers sustainable.
âÄúThe longer you wait, the more difficult it can be to keep people on board and to keep your groups sustainable and active,âÄù he said. âÄúIf your groupâÄôs not doing anything, no oneâÄôs going to want to join it.âÄù
Paul Buchel, a co-founder of the University Quidditch League, said he heard the complaints about these rules from smaller and newer student groups while serving on the Minnesota Student Association. After helping start the league, he now understands the frustration.
In its second semester, the Quidditch League has nearly 200 participants. Still, the group cannot apply for student services fees, forcing members to pay $20 and provide much of their own equipment.
He anticipates this could prove problematic if the University of Minnesota requires the group to provide insurance since it is a contact sport. Unless the group found funding elsewhere, members would have to pay more.
âÄúThat could be a nightmare,âÄù he said.
Buchel said he understands the rule is in place to ensure a student groupâÄôs sustainability, but there should be a revision for those that have already established a presence.
âÄúThey should have that rule amended so that the two-year probationary period isnâÄôt a rule but a criteria that itâÄôs judged by,âÄù he said.
Grants and fundraising Grants have been a useful resource for student groups in need of money. Most focused on providing money for specific events, but this year MSA introduced the Operating Budget Grant.
OBG, which varies from $75 to $600, is intended to help student groups not receiving student service fees. In its first year, MSA ran out of grant money because of its popularity.
Buchel helped create the grant while in MSA. He said it is intended to help student groups as they grow.
The Quidditch League was awarded a grant since it was not eligible for funding from the SSFC.
The OBG should not be viewed as a âÄúsecond optionâÄù for smaller or newer student groups that donâÄôt qualify for fees funding, he said.
âÄúThe operational budget grants could be a stepping stone or a buoy for student groups to stay afloat, but it shouldnâÄôt be a safety net for rejects from the student service fees,âÄù he said.
When grants fall short, fundraising is another way groups can generate money.
Mike Tetzlaff, co-chairman of Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry, said fundraising can be difficult because of stringent limitations.
Groups must officially apply and get a permit before hosting on-campus sales or fundraisers, according to Student Unions & Activities.
âÄúThe difficulty is just the bureaucracy, to tell you the truth,âÄù Tetzlaff said. âÄúYouâÄôve got to jump through a lot of hoops to get stuff done here.âÄù
Penny Fee
After surviving the two-year probationary period the TAPPI applied for $250 in student service fees but was rejected.
The reasoning âÄî too small of a request and âÄúrequested expenses fall under programmingâÄù âÄî is something Tetzlaff still doesnâÄôt understand.
Shaffer said he believes the SSFCâÄôs decision is due to the Penny Fee Conversion. If a group asks for a dollar amount that converts to less than one cent per student, the group automatically cannot receive those funds.
âÄúWithout this written down minimum amount, student groups canâÄôt know what to ask for,âÄù he said.
The Student Service Fees Request Handbook for Student Organizations provides a formula for how this could be calculated. Shaffer said it needs to be more explicitly stated so that groups, like TetzlaffâÄôs, know and donâÄôt risk not qualifying and getting no funding.
âÄúWhen a group doesnâÄôt get fees, itâÄôs a huge letdown,âÄù he said. âÄúI know once they donâÄôt get fees, they basically relapse. They have a year where they donâÄôt do very well.
âÄúIt makes things a little more tricky,âÄù Tetzlaff said of TAPPIâÄôs plans for next year.
Viewpoint neutrality
Andrew Wagner, junior vice chairman of the College Republicans at the University of Minnesota, said there is another fees committee guideline that he views as unconstitutional.
Partisan political organizations are barred from applying for student service fees, and Wagner said that discriminates based on viewpoint. He said this is an issue in a system meant to be viewpoint neutral.
âÄúThis is not a situation where weâÄôre going to be funding partisan election activities,âÄù he said. âÄúWe would like to put on fun events and programming that students are going to be able to go to.
âÄúWeâÄôd like to be able to increase our meeting turnout week-to-week.âÄù
The electioneering ban should still be in place, Wagner said. This would mean student groups couldnâÄôt use fee money to promote candidates or political parties specifically to get them elected.
Ultimate goal
Wagner served on the SSFC during the 2009-10 academic year and worked to change some of its procedures.
âÄúThereâÄôs a lot of things wrong with the system,âÄù he said.
He hoped to serve on the Student Services Fees Reform Committee last summer but could not since he served on the SSFC. The reform committee was created to evaluate and change specific aspects of the SSFC and its process.
Shaffer, on the other hand, did serve on the reform committee. âÄúI felt like most of my time was wasted,âÄù he said.
Both said the committee was not as effective in achieving its goals as they had hoped.
âÄúThe Office for Student Affairs and Jerry Rinehart directed the committee on what topics they were to address. And when they started to consider moving outside those topics, they were told, âÄòItâÄôs not within the scope of the committee, you need to focus on these things,âÄôâÄù Wagner said.
Shaffer joined the committee to advocate for issues facing groups similar to his, but those were not part of the committeeâÄôs priorities.
âÄúWhen I joined it, I was under the impression that we would be able to work on these things that I wanted to change,âÄù Shaffer said. âÄúIt became very apparent very quickly that that would not be the case.âÄù
Both plan to meet with Rinehart to discuss their concerns when he returns from a trip to Australia later this month.
Buchel, Shaffer and Wagner all said some of these guidelines hinder the potential some of these student groups could have, even making it difficult at times.
âÄúYou donâÄôt know what an organization can do if they get the type of funding,âÄù Wagner said.
Shaffer said his goal is to bring attention to these flaws in hopes of change.
âÄúItâÄôs not like weâÄôre trying to destroy the system.âÄù