On Feb. 13, the Associated Student of Madison voted to endorse legislation that would bring the allocation of all student fees under its control. Currently, the student government handles only the allocable fees, due to a devious move by the Board of Regents back in 2007, in which the distinction between allocable and non-allocable thwarted ASM’s plan to oversee and regulate how all these segregated fees are put to use. Frustrated that their attempts to gain total dominance over these funds were foiled, ASM sued; however, the lawsuit luckily did not come to fruition. While students should have complete knowledge over exactly what their seg fees pay for (and the amount each provided service is receiving), the control over allocable and non-allocable seg fee regulation should not be concentrated in an organization that experiences regular turnover.
ASM already has quite a bit of power. The allocable portion of segregated fees, the portion it is responsible for divvying out, canvases activities such as covering staff positions in student government, supporting student organizations and funding concerts and lectures. Non-allocables, on the other hand, cover health services for students, student centers and unions, intramural and recreational sports and intercollegiate athletics. They reportedly make up approximately 80 percent of the segregated fee budget. Therefore, student representatives have control of about 20 percent of this budget, and the utilization of this small portion has come under repeated criticism. The Student Services Finance Committee (the committee that makes recommendations to ASM regarding the allocation of over $32 million in seg fees), has made questionable decisions in the past with regards to the General Student Services Fund (money distributed to student organizations that provide student services).
Last year, for example, the 18 GSSF groups received $1.4 million, while the hundreds of remaining organizations split only $500,000. One of the GSSF groups, the Medieval Warriorcraft League, a group dedicated to promoting the understanding, instruction and practice of human combative behavior and performance, received more than $95,000 in student funds.
Furthermore, SSFC has been looking into further expanding the GSSF, which would be done by redefining the eligibility criteria, perhaps allowing for a greater number of organizations to gain access to more funds. This would, in turn, lead to an increase in seg fees. Unless this is rethought and the broken GSSF system is repaired, perhaps starting at the upcoming SSFC meeting today, this power struggle should come to an end.
Although increases are inevitable, another reason ASM is undoubtedly trying to gain control of the non-allocable fees is to help make college affordability a long-term reality. Until ASM proves that it can apportion the allocable funds it does have control over in the best and most efficient way possible (while proving its relevance to the student body through this allotment), it should not be granted oversight over non-allocable fees, too.
The numbers are undoubtedly daunting. In the last 10 years alone, segregated fees at UW have increased by 90 percent overall, and the non-allocables have increased by 103 percent during that time period (the allocables, under full student government control, have gone up 45 percent). While it’s relatively easy to point to ASM mismanagement of funds as a reason to condemn the whole institution, it’s impossible and incorrect to say that student government was solely responsible for the general seg fee increase. Segregated fees would have increased regardless of whether ASM had any control over either or neither of the portions. Nonetheless, UW is better off with the separation of allocables and non-allocables, in which ASM has only limited say.
Under the current system, SSFC is usually not given input in the determination of the amount students will be charged or how the fees are spent on building projects, but the alternative of having complete student control over this and more is daunting and potentially detrimental to the university overall. If control over non-allocable fees was given to a body that is short-sighted and most concerned with lowering fees for students now, many necessary projects could be underfunded; the unions may not receive proper maintenance, building enterprises could be deferred and other organizations (including University Health Services) that students have come to rely on may no longer be able to provide the services students expect.
Already, ASM is rather disenfranchised with the student body, a claim made apparent by how it appropriates funding for student organizations. Would a nearsighted, astigmatic student government be capable of making crucial decisions regarding funding that would not only affect the current Badgers, but generations of UW students in the future?
Briana Reilly ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in international studies and journalism.
[Photo via the State Historical Society of Wisconsin]