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Newly-proposed increase attracts support

Maddie Hanna | Monday, October 10, 2005

While the Student Senate’s proposed $15 increase in Notre Dame’s student activities fee to implement the College Readership Program provoked debate last week, fee increases have been fairly standard procedure during the past 10 years.

The current $80 fee was set during 2002, according to the 2004 University Factbook. This was a $15 increase from the previous $65 fee. In 1998, the fee increased from $55 to $65.

The Academic Affairs committee presented this data alongside statistics tracking the annual tuition percentage increase and annual inflation rate at last Wednesday’s Senate meeting to explain why an increase in the student activities fee is necessary.

“It is important to note that inflation has picked up in the past four years,” the committee’s conclusion said. “Inflation has decreased the buying power of student groups and organizations by about $8 since 2002.”

The current inflation rate, cited by the U.S. Department of Labor as 3.0 percent, has increased steadily since the 1.6 percent rate in 2002. The rate has been a factor driving past fee increases, which have always faced debate.

In 2002, Senate rejected a fee increase that proposed an initial $10 increase accompanied by five subsequent yearly $5 raises. After facing backlash about the need to help cash-strapped clubs, Senate approved the one-time $15 increase, which went through the Campus Life Council and Vice President of Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman before being enacted by the University budgeting group.

Proposed fee increases have also led to consideration about misappropriation of club money. In 1989 one such proposal caused some senators to suggest misuse of funds, a Feb. 19, 1989 Observer article said.

But while budget crunches are certainly important to the explanation, they are not the primary focus of the committee’s proposal this year. The College Readership Program, a pilot program sponsored by USA Today that elicited positive student feedback at Notre Dame last spring, would get $10 of the extra $15.

The College Readership Program itself has not generated controversy, but student government representatives and some students have voiced concern that demand for the papers would surpass the supply.

The $10 collected from each student would fund about 1,600 papers a day, student body president Dave Baron said. But the potential problem stems from statistics collected by USA Today two weeks into Notre Dame’s pilot program that show a daily average of 2,035 papers distributed with a mere one percent return rate, implying that 1,600 papers would not be sufficient to meet student demand.

To combat this problem, Baron said Academic Affairs committee chair Chris Harris would conduct an “aggressive campaign” with bins in the dining halls to promote paper sharing.

He said the breakdown between USA Today, New York Times and Chicago Tribune newspapers could be shifted, explaining that the New York Times costs about two times as much as the Chicago Tribune. This means that increasing the amount of Chicago Tribunes and decreasing the amount of New York Times papers offered would allow for greater total numbers of newspapers available.

“We would be able to get that number up just by switching the distribution of the papers,” said Baron, who thought the number could reach “at least 1,750.”

Other measures to prevent a paper shortage would include reducing the number of paper locations to the dining halls and an off-campus location to deter University faculty and staff from taking advantage of the program, Baron said.

“If they’re going to get them [the papers], they should pay for it,” Baron said.

He did not think there would necessarily be a paper shortage.

“I think the numbers near the end of the pilot program were inflated,” Baron said. “We do think whoever wants to get a paper early enough will be able to … And the academic value brought by the papers will be transmitted throughout the student body.”

Many students seemed to support the proposed fee increase, citing the benefits of the College Readership Program.

“I think it’s a positive thing because I think it’s important to be informed,” sophomore Mary Sullivan said. “I miss not having access to those newspapers and I thought it was a really good program. I don’t mind paying the extra $15.”

Junior Sarah Shaw also said she would support the program’s implementation, although she would like to see the Washington Post available.

“I enjoyed the readership program,” Shaw said. “I’m for it, and I don’t mind paying an extra $15.”

Other students, however, were skeptical.

“If everyone’s paying $15 per semester, everyone should have the opportunity to pick up a newspaper,” junior Britton Kreiner said. “But if a large proportion aren’t going to use the benefits, then why should they pay for it?”

Kreiner said the program’s success would depend on the amount of papers available.

“Basically, if they get enough copies of the Times or USA Today then no one will complain, but if there’s like a small stack that’s all gone by the time people get there, then I’m going to ask why I am paying $15 for it,” he said.

Some students didn’t have strong opinions one way or another – an example that may support Baron in his belief that there will not be a serious paper shortage.

“As someone who doesn’t read the paper, I’m not excited about paying more, but then again my parents are paying so I don’t think I would notice that much,” junior Steven Kurtz said.

But he said he supported the concept and the program’s goal.

“I’d say the [student activity fee] increase is important,” Kurtz said. “It’s good and [the readership program] will help get people to know what’s going on outside of Notre Dame. It’s a decent idea.”

Mary Kate Malone contributed to this report.