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UA to reconsider activity fee

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By Prabhat Mehta

If adopted, a student activities fee would appear as a "line item" on tuition and room and board accounts, independent of the charges currently listed. And in the first year of its implementation, the fee -- probably about 0.4 percent of tuition, or $29 per term -- would be subtracted from an initial assessment of tuition, leaving the final cost of attending MIT unchanged, Antico said.

Antico has been pursuing the activities fee despite a defeat of a similar referendum in the spring 1988 UA elections. Antico attributed that defeat to a general misunderstanding that the fee would in fact increase tuition immediately.

"There's been a lot of confusion, and it's really held us back," he said. He felt that writing the referendum with more detail this time will help it pass.

Concern over benefit of fee

Currently, the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs provides the UA Finance Board with about $7 per student per term for activities. According to a report to be issued by the UA sometime this month, comparable schools receive approximately $30 per student per term.

The 0.4 percent activities fee would provide direct funding comparable to that of other schools, but some students have raised concerns over whether a fee would cut seriously the funding many groups directly receive from Institute offices and departments.

At a special UAC meeting last term involving representatives from activities belonging to the Association of Student Activities, some groups -- including the Student Information Processing Board -- announced strong opposition to the referendum. This dispute helped kill plans for a special ballot late last term on the fee, according FinBoard member and former UA Vice President Ephraim P. Lin '90.

Currently groups such as SIPB, the Course Evaluation Guide and numerous fine arts groups receive substantial independent funding from individual offices or departments.

Most UA representatives seem to feel that the activity fee would not reduce the amount of money these groups get both because the fee would provide FinBoard -- the likely distributing agency of the fee's revenues -- with more funds to allocate, and because the departments which currently support activities have special interests in them and would therefore not let them suffer.

An activities fee "might affect [outside funding] somewhat, but not significantly," said newly-elected FinBoard chair Annie Kerr '92. She, like many UA proponents of the referendum, thought that the net effect of the fee would be an increase in the amount of student funding.

Controversy over timing

Internally, the UA appears split on whether the referendum should appear on this year's ballot. Antico has all along been aggressive on the issue, favoring a vote as early as possible.

FinBoard officials, however, have argued that the complexities in accounting and money transfer require further planning. "I am in favor of an increase in funds, but I'm skeptical of our ability to handle it [right now]," Kerr said.

Former FinBoard head Nicola J. Bird '91 agrees with Kerr: "I'm definitely for more money, but I'm not sure about the implementation of this.... I have a lot of reservations." She suggested that the UA wait for perhaps a full year until the details of how the fee would be handled by FinBoard and what the fee will mean for activities receiving outside support are settled.

Antico, a former member of FinBoard, said that his experience there prompted him to move on the referendum. "A lot of groups [currently] make requests and know that they're not going to get it." He acknowledged that FinBoard's accounting complexities would have to be worked out, but noted that even if the fee were approved this year, it would not begin to appear on bills until the 1991-92 academic year, at the earliest.

Lin seemed uncertain on the issue. He also felt that the UA "still had some issues to work out," but declined to express his opinion on the timing of the referendum.

If the referendum makes it to next month's ballot and fails, it will in all likelihood fade away for a while. Nevertheless, Antico remains optimistic: "The referendum may die for a couple of years, but the issues it brought to light [like the need for more funding] will remain."