NEWS

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May 15, 2009

SG representatives clash with administration over fee change

Student Government (SG) representatives expressed concern over the transparency and efficacy of the University administration’s plan to consolidate some student fees into a new Student Life Fee at a meeting with administrators Wednesday evening.

SG members disagreed both with the changes being made and the process the administration undertook to make them. However, the administration regarded the consolidation as an “administrative decision” and will not open the issue to student debate.

The quarterly meeting held between SG’s cabinet and Kimberly Goff-Crews, vice president of campus life, was devoted in large part to this issue.

An April 17 e-mail from Goff-Crews detailed the changes, which will see the Student Activities, Student Health, and Laboratory fees unified into one fee, presented simply as the Student Life Fee on students’ bills.

“It’s a measure of best practices,” Goff-Crews said, noting that the decision was intended to simplify the bill payment process for parents. She said that the Office of Student Life has received calls from parents “concerned that the University is nickel-and-diming them” in response to having several fees listed on bills.

SG representatives argued that the breakdown, as it currently stands, helps students who split costs of their bills with parents. Second-year College Council (CC) representative Arthur Baptist said parents who split costs with their children often pay for only specific parts.

“Some parents are more inclined, for example, to pay for healthcare than housing,” he said. The consolidation would make it more difficult to discern which costs to split.

Representatives suggested leaving the fees itemized on the front of the tuition bill or printing the breakdown of the Student Life Fee on the back, where interested students and parents might read it, a point Goff Crews said she would consider during the meeting.

However, Goff-Crews made it clear in an interview after the meeting that the administration would not be reversing the new policy. “We’ve already printed our bills, so logistically, it’s impossible to do,” she said.

Second-year CC representative Mark Redmond had drafted a resolution criticizing the changes.

The resolution also addressed the fact that Goff-Crews had reached out to only SG’s cabinet (the Executive Slate, both trustee liaisons, and both council chairs) prior to the announcement. He said the Assembly, which represents the student body, should have more communication with the administration.

Earlier this year, the administration met twice with the cabinet to share, among other issues, information about changes to student fees. The slate objected to the change, according to SG President and fourth-year Matt Kennedy, but the administration pressed forward with the consolidation. Because the meeting was confidential, the issue was not communicated to SG Assembly.

“The conversation did break down more than we would have liked,” Kennedy said, adding that generally he has had good relationships with administrators. “We would have liked to have a more public conversation and have the administration give a better reason than [clarity] for this....I don’t think that’s a good screen for them to hide behind.”

Kennedy, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, said the issue was particularly salient due to SG’s traditional oversight of the Student Activities Fee, which funds annual RSO funding. “SG has a lot of input on the [fee],” Kennedy said. “With the consolidation of fees, it’s the first step toward losing that control.”

Goff-Crews said those earlier meetings were meant to gather suggestions on how to share the decision with the student body rather than to seek substantive input on policy decisions. Goff-Crews said the slate objected to the consolidations, “but we decided we were going to do it anyway.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, graduate student Toussaint Losier, vice president for student affairs, expressed frustration at the administration’s hardened stance going into their earlier meetings.

“The decision was made without regard to what student opinion is,” he said.

Redmond voiced concern over a general lack of administrative transparency when communicating the rationale behind their decisions. He argued that Goff-Crews’ “one-time e-mail to students” didn’t make information accessible enough.

“It’s a matter of transparency, but also a matter of accessibility of that information,” Redmond said.

Goff-Crews argued that the University will ensure such transparency, stating that the emails she sends out to the student body, including an e-mail that shared the breakdown for the 2009-2010 Student Activities Fee, will be archived online.

With Goff-Crews and representatives at loggerheads, the conversation turned to future SG-administration relations.

Redmond asked what role SG feedback would play in future decision-making.

“That depends,” Goff-Crews said. “It’s a partnership to figure that out.”

She added later in an interview, “[since] the issues we’ve been talking about in small groups are those that students are concerned about underscores, this is a really good discussion.”

Nevertheless, representatives remained frustrated with the tone of the University’s decision.

Redmond said he had hoped the discussion would focus on immediate concerns with the Student Life Fee instead of broad discussions of the relationship between SG and the administration.

“It was ironic,” Redmond said after the meeting, “that during the meeting [the administrators] turned the discussion from the Student Life Fee, what we specifically wanted them to talk about, to how they could engage us on certain issues.”