Senate shuts down student activity fee

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Four minutes before the Student Government Association meeting was set to begin last Wednesday at 5:00 p.m., a bill to increase the Student Activity Fee was sent to Jay Hardin, Vice President of Internal Affairs. The bill is a result of the Task Force for Optimizing and Raising the Student Activity Fee led by Mike Degnan, a former member of SGA. Even though he disagrees with raising the fee in current financial climates, Jason Maddox, a member of the SGA Election Committee, has called the task force noble since there is a general consensus among senators that there is not sufficient funding for student organizations.

The task force consisted of Chartered Student Organization leaders as well as members of SGA, according to an email sent by Degnan to CSO leaders Wednesday night after the Senate voted against the bill. The proposed increase was a $30 spike from the original $55 that students pay. It would take place over two years, in which it would rise by $10 the first year and $20 the second year. The Student Activity Fee is built into tuition and is allocated to student organizations and CSOs by SGA. This fee is what allows these organizations to do things like bring speakers to campus and host events for fellow students.  For Maddox, who has also served as a CSO president and an SGA senator, that much of an increase was too much to ask of his peers. “My biggest concern with the proposal—and raising the fee in general—was the placement of funding burdens on our students,” he said. “The responsibility of effectively and responsibly distributing funds is placed on the Student Government Association, and I do not believe we have been doing our due diligence in that regard.”

With tuition increasing at a steady rate of 2 percent per year, Maddox felt that an increase in the activity fee would only add to the struggle that students face regarding costs of higher education. “As such, those who vote in favor of it—those who can withstand an increase in their yearly expenditures—would vote to raise the cost of SLU for students who may already be having troubles affording their education, especially minorities and other historically disadvantaged groups,” Maddox posted to his Facebook page, in which he challenged the email sent by Degnan to CSO leaders.

As SGA elections loom ever nearer, many candidates have taken to the platform of transparency regarding where money is being given. Some believe that the solution can come from CSOs publicizing their budgets. However, Vice President of Internal Affairs, Jay Hardin, does not believe that is the only issue. “The real problem with the funding process lies in outdated directives,” he said.  Hardin, who is also running for president of SGA, says that, if elected president, he will work to recreate those directives with CSO leaders and to make sure that funding directives appropriately represent student organizations.

While the majority of senators are in favor of an increase to the Student Activity Fee, many feel that the timing is simply off. “I would look at an increase, but not until every SLU student has been consulted,” Hardin says.  “There are some students that honestly cannot afford a $30 increase, so I would want to gain as much information as possible first and then decide on the correct amount to raise the fee.” Maddox is also not completely against an increase in the fee and even feels that it is inevitable. Students have a different take. “If that money that is raised is put to good use, then sure, why not? Tuition is already going up. But I’d like to see where the money is going to,” said junior Seth Sebastian.

Saint Louis University is already facing cuts, making the questions raised by SGA senators about adding additional costs to students seem valid and timely. Even with good intent, the benefit of the students can be argued from both sides. As an increase would lead to more enriching programs, a delay to the increase also saves students some of the financial burden. The question is, how does the SLU community strive to live up to empowering the community? Through diverse and inspiring programs or making the campus accessible and affordable for all?   These are the tasks our SGA senators are charged with. Elections will take place Feb. 27. Vote on SLU groups.