Senate votes to hold referendum on student activity fee increase in spring election
Some students unhappy with possibility of increase, current allocation of funds
At a special meeting last week, the American University Student Government (AUSG) Senate voted to hold a referendum in the SG spring elections that would ask students whether or not to increase the student activity fee by $11.50 per semester.
The senate meeting, held on March 19, determined whether the referendum would be put on the ballot for students to decide. The decision to increase the student activity fee will ultimately be in the hands of the Board of Trustees, who will take the referendum into consideration when planning future budgets.
The student activity fee is currently $88.50. If the referendum passes, the new student activity fee would be $100 per semester per student. The student activity fee funds student leader stipends, as well as AU Club Council (AUCC), AU Student Media Board (AUMB) and AUSG, The Eagle previously reported.
The total amount distributed between AUCC, AUMB and AUSG is $935,000 for the 2017-2018 academic year, according to AUSG Secretary Kris Schneider, who gave a presentation during the senate meeting.
“We’ve heard a lot of student concerns and we want to address those and make sure those are heard,” Schneider said at the meeting. “And that we take those into account as we go forward.”
Since the senate meeting, some students have been “theorizing” about moving the referendum to the fall, Schneider said. But as of now, SG is “committed to funding our student organizations and programming and currently our path to do that is through the referendum this spring,” Schneider told The Eagle on March 25.
How the student activity fee works
The $935,000 is currently split up so that AUSG gets 53.5 percent of the money, $500,225. AUCC gets 25.5 percent at $238,435 and AUMB receives 21 percent at $196,350, according to Schneider.
Schneider gave a projected increase if the referendum were to pass, assuming the amount allocated for student leader stipends ($145,700 this year) does not increase and the enrollment number used to calculate this year’s allocation is steady.
If so, the new budget would be $1,074,300, a $139,300 increase. AUSG would receive an additional $74,525, making their budget $574,750, still at 53.5 percent of the distribution. AUCC would receive an additional $35,521, making their total budget $273,946, still at 25.5 percent. AUMB would receive an additional $29,253, making their total budget $225,603, still at 21 percent.
Schneider said an increase in the fee would greatly benefit AUSG and AUCC. The Eagle spoke to AUCC Chair Brian O’Gara the day after the senate voted to have the referendum. O’Gara said he is happy with the results.
“I’m sure it would benefit Club Council, Student Media and Student Government since they have their own costs to share,” O’Gara said. “At the end of the day I support it because it’s a student wide vote, so if by the end of the day, if they don’t want it they can vote no and I think that it’s a pretty fair process.”
O’Gara told The Eagle that currently, AUCC oversees over 165 undergraduate clubs on campus, and each year, clubs ask AUCC for more money than they have allotted, meaning they have to often turn down programming for clubs.
“Historically every year, they ask us for more money than we already have within the academic year,” O’Gara said. “I can’t say how that’s happening this year because we’re still wrapping things up, but in the past few years, they’ve already asked us for more than what we have. So if we have more money, this could allow us to program to more clubs.”
Additionally, O’Gara said that the increase in funding would allow more clubs to buy promotional materials and support the cost of printing, utensils, plates and other products for clubs.
“The main issue is trying to fund as many groups as we can,” O’Gara said. “Of course, we don’t want to trivialize the cost of $11 per semester, but we feel that the benefit that it gives us in programming clubs on campus, it’s worth the cost because it would help bring more programming to campus that all students could go to.”
SG says Founder's Day Week has been 'historically underfunded'
At the senate meeting, Schneider spoke about the importance the increase in funding would be for SG programming.
“From our perspective, it would allow us to boost programming projects,” Schneider said. “That would be the crux -- actually the only increase that the current administration of AUSG could see going towards.”
Schneider said Founder’s Day Week has been “historically underfunded.” According to the Fall 2017 SG Expenses made available on the SG website, the total cost for Founder’s Day activities was $125,050.
During the senate meeting, SG Vice President Solomon Self added that the fee increase would better SG’s programming, specifically in its three departments: Kennedy Political Union (KPU), Student Union Board (SUB) and Women’s Initiative (WI).
“They want KPU speakers in Bender, they want [SUB’s] welcome week show to be bigger,” Self said. “These things cost money.”
Self spoke about his experiences in SG programming and how events have gotten bigger, including SUB’s welcome week concerts of White Panda, Charli XCX and A$AP Ferg.
“When I was a freshman, we had our opening show in the Tavern with White Panda, who I’ve never heard of,” Self said. “We’ve moved from that to Charli XCX in Bender, A$AP Ferg in Bender.”
According to Self, if SG does not get more money to fund programming it will have to cut KPU, SUB and possibly WI’s budgets or not hold a Founder’s Day Ball.
“If you like these events you’re going to need to increase the fee,” Self told the audience. “We simply do not have the resources to fund these events.”
Students call for 'discussion' about allocation of funds
Senior Meredith Bartley, who serves as the general manager for ATV, asked Self if there is any oversight to ensure that the student activity fee is going to proper avenues.
“It seems that SG is trying to go bigger and better and I really appreciate the programming you bring,” Bartley said. “But to consider it to the scale of the media board, in which one of our organizations has to decide between getting out a print edition or getting a new camera for the future, where is the infrastructure to compare these scales? To protect the smaller organizations who are putting out new programming and not just the bigger and better and flashier programming?”
At the meeting, SG President Yamillet Payano said the increase in the fund would increase programming for marginalized communities.
“As a low-income student, I hear what you’re saying,” Payano said. “As a student myself I have to say that, I would like to see personally more programming targeting my community. More representation in speakers and making sure student clubs get the ability to do and get the money they ask for to do the wonderful work that they do.”
During Payano’s speech, junior Andrew Watring, representing AU’s Rude Mechanicals, said there needs to be a discussion on the current allocation of the student activity fee.
“I think we all agree that there is a discussion around allocation that needs to happen,” Watring said. “What I’m saying is I believe that discussion needs to take place before we give any more money or we request any more money because I think yes, we all need the pot to be bigger, but me personally as a student, as a club leader on campus, I don’t trust you all to finish the conversation.”
Following remarks from SG leaders, the senate ultimately voted to hold the referendum in the spring election. During the public comment at the end of the meeting, Bartley spoke about her concerns with the senate approving this referendum.
“I think it’s completely inappropriate to ask [for] more money when the student body does not have any trust where it’s going, even leaders who are involved have no trust,” Bartley said. “I don’t understand why we keep asking for more money and I just hope that the student body now makes the right decision.”