“I’m paying for the student coalition to end what?”

The classic tuition bill covers tuition, room and board if applicable, and fees.  This somewhat amorphous last item generally doesn’t worry students much.  It’s usually a small sum, just a few hundred dollars.  Unless of course you’re attending Rutgers, where high fees are needed to fund things like a  $30,000 speech from Snooki.  However, there is one major reason for concern: In most cases students have no idea where their fee money is going.

Fee reform has been a buzzword around DC lately, with the Educational Advisory Board releasing a study of fee use at Howard University and Georgetown. Not wanting to be left behind, American University’s Club Council has begun a thorough self-examination of fee rates and usage. Their findings so far include the revelation that a large amount of student money is allocated to clubs that don’t use it (how the heck do they get approved for this?). This sort of tough look at where student money is going seems to be a first step in the right direction.

In classic AU-style the investigation is being done entirely by a small committee of students and AU Club Council staff with very clear conflicts of interest. It seems no surprise to me that we are already talking about increasing fees when this committee consists of Student Government members (we have no idea which members), three different Greek-life associations (which are asking for more money) and Club Council staff (those in charge of the structure being investigated).  If more students were involved in the process, especially those who do not benefit from Greek-life events this might have been a worthwhile exercise in transparency. Another major problem with the investigation is the inclusion of those responsible for continuation of the clearly ridiculous Student Government budget (more than $600,000). Used mostly for bringing speakers and concerts to campus, the Student Government budget is also used to support programming like Artemas Ward Week, whatever that is., and the Women’s Initiative which overlaps with and virtually duplicates the Women’s Resource Center .

Much of what’s left goes to “discretionary” spending, and $75,000 of that goes to payroll of the Student Government.  Yes, you get paid for being a student official. The president receives $6000 for the summer semester, and $4000 for the academic year. The other executive board members get $5000 for the summer and $3500 for the academic year. Each member of the  executive staff earns $3500 for the summer and $2500 for the academic year. Directors of various departments (Women’s Initiative, Student Advocacy Center, Director of Design) each receive $2000. My favorite: the director of bike lending gets $1500.

Throughout the discussion, the campaign on the side of AU Club Council has been that they are fighting for “more efficiency.” Namely, the issue of those clubs who don’t use their allocation or who scramble to pay for things they don’t need or want just to show that the money has been spent. These efforts usually result in dull events that students attend just long enough to get some free pizza, then  high-tail it out of there.  Workshops on non-skills and roundtables on non-issues abound in the residence hall lounges here at AU. After all, if you don’t look busy, how are you going to get more money than your rival club next year? While an investigation into this sort of behavior is a valiant effort, one would assume that the goal was to lower fees; if we’re not spending the money, why make students pay it? But instead the recommendation thus far has been to raise fees.  Not a good idea, in my opinion

The idea behind activity fees, much like taxes, is that all students will benefit from having paid them.  For the student not involved in the various clubs that are funded this is a pretty tough claim.  Many of us like getting free pizza at meetings on some other students’ dime, don’t like it that all the other clubs we don’t care about get pizza on ours.  Even further from that, there is a problem when the student fees are being used to advance initiatives that are very controversial and that individual students would easily oppose given the choice.  When it comes to Student Government, I think all here would agree that students are in no way getting the benefits they should be in return for 72% of all activity fee money (SG’s allocation).  Here’s hoping this comes out better than expected and we finally get a little transparency here at the American University.  However, my expectations are (I think understandably) rather low.

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Alex McHugh

Alex McHugh works in communications for the American Council for Trustees and Alumni.

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