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Proposed $15 activities fee increase approved

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, October 13, 2005

Urged by one student government veteran to stop waiting for the perfect solution, the Student Senate passed a proposed $15 increase in Notre Dame’s student activities fee to implement the College Readership Program at its Wednesday night meeting.

Senior Vijay Ramanan, the student delegate to the University’s Academic Council and former chair of the Senate Academic Affairs committee, addressed senators with the seasoned perspective of someone who understands both success and frustration. He was a driving force behind the three-week pilot College Readership Program last spring.

“If you’re waiting around to do research for a better program, you’re not going to find it,” Ramanan said. “You have a good solution with a very good probability of being passed with almost unanimous support.”

Ramanan’s speech came after a proposed amendment by O’Neill senator Steve Tortorello to add another $5 onto the proposed increase, which would have resulted in a total activity fee increase of $20.

The resolution, which passed on a 22-5 vote, suggests raising the current student activity fee from $80 to $95 for the next academic year. The resolution will be sent to the Campus Life Council. If approved by the Council, it will go to Vice President of Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman before facing final consideration by the University Budgeting Group.

The extra $5 proposed by Tortorello was intended to fully alleviate the debt currently faced by the Student Union’s clubs and organizations.

Tortorello cited data previously mentioned by Academic Affairs committee chair Chris Harris showing the buying power of student groups and organizations has decreased by $8 since 2002, due to inflation.

Under the $15 increase proposed last week – which ultimately passed – $10 would go to the College Readership Program and $5 would go to Clubs and Organizations.

“That’s a big student activity fee hike to end up still $3 in the hole,” Tortorello said.

But with a student activity fee increase of $20, Tortorello said, the College Readership Program would receive $11, while Clubs and Organizations would receive $9, fixing the debt problem and putting an extra dollar toward newspapers.

Zahm senator Pat Knapp supported the amendment, noting student concerns about not being able to get a paper. As the proposal stands, $10 will fund between 1,600 and 1,750 papers, numbers that fall short of the 2,035 target determined by USA Today during the pilot program.

“A dollar’s a drop in the bucket, in terms of what we pay here,” Knapp said.

But other senators were quick to question a further price increase.

“If we can satisfy our needs in the cheapest way possible, that’d be better,” Farley senator Carol Hendrickson said.

Harris agreed and said he thought Senate should “take it slow” with the fee increases.

“I think what we have to do before we go into this program is be very wary … very careful about how much money we allocate to this program,” Harris said.

Student body president Dave Baron said the $15 increase was originally proposed after he and Harris conducted a summer’s worth of research into the subject and were advised by the Student Union treasurer and “people actually making the decisions” that $15 would be “optimal.”

While he would support a $20 increase in the student activities fee, Baron said he thought it would be harder to push the resolution through higher levels.

The $20 increase would have eliminated the need for the second stage of the plan, modifying the fixed allocation percentages specified by the Student Union constitution. With the extra money, the College Readership Program would be adequately funded without having to redistribute funds from clubs and organizations, Knapp said.

But Keough senator Rob Lindley returned to a statistical analysis presented at last week’s Senate meeting that demonstrated how modifying the fixed percentages would provide clubs with the necessary funding without further increasing the student activities fee.

“Why change something that’s not broken?” Lindley asked.

In response, Knapp stressed the deliberation that would go into the changes and questioned the Oct. 25 deadline set for passing a resolution.

“I would rather have a good plan tomorrow than a bad plan today,” Knapp said.

Student body vice president Lizzi Shappell explained that the Oct. 25 deadline was necessary in order for the proposal to have a chance at being enacted next year.

Alumni senator Drew Beatty agreed with Shappell – “time is of the essence,” he said – but questioned the extra money the resolution proposed giving to clubs and organizations.

“There is a huge carry-forward account,” Beatty said. “Why do we need to give them extra dollars?”

Shappell said the third stage of the plan would be investigating the Student Union’s carry-forward account, which is composed of funds unused each year by the Student Union.

While it may be tempting to tap into that money for the College Readership Program, Baron said he felt the extra funds should be used on something “lasting that future students can enjoy,” since the $180,000 has been accumulating over the years.

The Student Union constitution states that $15,000 must remain in the account each year, and only $10,000 can be removed per year, Baron said.

He attributed the large account to an administration three years ago that “dropped the ball,” didn’t spend the allotted money and added $100,000 to the account. Last year, only $7,000 was added.

The resolution will be presented at the Oct. 24 Campus Life Council meeting.