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UA reconsiders issue of student activites fee

By Prabhat Mehta

The Undergraduate Association is once again considering a student activities fee, independent of the Institute budget, to finance student activities, according to UA President Paul Antico '91. A new student activities referendum may come to vote as early as this term in a special ballot, Antico said.

Currently, the Student Funding Action Committee -- which is composed of UA personnel from the President's Office, Finance Board, and the Association of Student Activities, as well as other interested students -- is working to prepare a report detailing the current status of student activity funding at MIT, as well as comparing MIT's per capita activity funding to that of other universities and colleges, Antico said.

The report will "show what type of crisis [student activities funding] is in," according to Antico. He expects that the report will come out in late October or early November. If reaction to the report is positive, the UA may hold a special vote for all undergraduates on the issue of having a student activities fee as early as November, he said.

Idea previously rejected

The Office of the Dean for Student Affairs now provides the funds -- about $7 per student per term -- for student activities, Antico noted.

The UA claims that these funds have declined in real value in recent years. In an interview in the Sept. 11 issue of the UA's Currents, President Paul E. Gray '54 claimed that one of the reasons why student activity funding has not risen as rapidly in recent years is that "there are much larger flows of funds associated with other aspects of student activities at MIT that don't proceed from the Institute's operating budget." He cited as an example the Student Center Committee, which has independently raised more in funds than the total amount offered by ODSA for all activities.

In the spring of 1988, at the end of the administration of former UA President Manuel Rodriguez '89, a referendum on an $18 per student per term student activities fee was proposed but rejected by undergraduates voting in UA general elections. Antico felt that student misconceptions about the nature of the referendum caused its defeat. "There was a definite lack of information last time," he said.

Antico felt that if students had realized that the administration was willing to subtract the full $18 fee from student tuition, they would have voted in favor of the referendum. Antico said that many students have told him that they did not realize last time that the student activities fee would not have to be an extra cost burden. He noted that a clause of no additional cost would probably be attached to the new referendum.

Falling behind other schools

The main advantages of the referendum would be that "money would come directly here [to the UA]" without fear of drastic cuts or policy changes implemented by the administration, and that student activities could receive more money (from the current $7 per student to a level such as the previously proposed $18) without a corresponding increase in tuition, Antico said. Currently, student activities ask FinBoard -- the distributor of the ODSA money -- for three to four times as much as they receive.

"The [amount of money MIT] activities get is the lowest that I know of," Antico claimed. He based his findings on preliminary research for the SFAC report. The report, he said, will list the amount of funding that student activities get in a variety of colleges and universities around the country.

Antico also noted that Gray has indicated support for separating student activities funds from the MIT budget.

While Antico believes that better informing students about the true nature of a student activities fee will likely sway voters to support a referendum, he acknowledged that FinBoard also needs to make an effort at reform. At present, Antico claimed, there is a sense that FinBoard, like many other UA activities is "too cliquish." He said that FinBoard needs to establish more credibility so that students will trust it with a larger fund.