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UA enforses idea of student activities fee

A number of corrections are in order regarding the results of Thursday's Undergraduate Association Council meeting as reported in Friday's issue of The Tech. The headline, "UA tables activities fee referendum" is technically incorrect since the council never voted to table anything. The last sentence, alluding to changes to the Institute calendar, mistakenly gave the impression that a referendum would be held on this issue.

The fact is that the Institute is considering changes to the calendar which would remove one vacation day from fall and spring four-day weekends, place Registration Day in January, and spread out finals and the reading period over a longer amount of time. We are only beginning to gather student feedback on this issue.

But the central issue of the meeting was the Student Funding Proposal. The council passed a rather detailed motion which (1) approves the idea of a student-controlled allocation to be deducted from tuition and (2) provides boundaries (no greater than $30/semester) and a procedure for implementation.

That procedure will require a petition drive to obtain approximately 200 signatures before a referendum can be held. Far from killing the prospects for an activities fee, this ensures that if and when a referendum is held, it will be because students want one.

It places the responsibility for justifying such a fee on the shoulders of the council, the UA Finance Board, and the activities which need the money. It gives student government a chance to work, instead of defaulting to the student body at large to yea or nay a proposal they do not know much about or understand the need for.

Yes, cynics will cite this as another example of the UA doing nothing or being indecisive. But this is what should have been done months ago. Until Thursday, the UA Council had not taken a position at all on this proposal. The idea drew life from the continued efforts of UA President Paul Antico and other students who recognized the need for finding a way to fund activities. Lacking the enthusiastic support of the council or any other large number of students, however, the proposal was destined to fail.

I have talked to many students with very divergent viewpoints on this issue. Some reject any fee out of hand and see no reason to allocate money toward anything they cannot extract a monetary reward from directly. Others would support a fee if they could be assured that it would allow new services and an improved campus life. Others believe it should not be the students' responsibility to pay for these activities -- that the administration should provide more money but not "tax" students for it.

The fact of the matter is that the administration will not, out of the goodness of its heart, give more money to activities unless students make this a priority issue. It is the one issue we have some control over, as opposed to the myriad of policy issues that we confront every year -- like pass-fail, the future of Independent Activities Period, the future of Athena, and the next president of MIT. Students have had influence in the determination of many of these issues (the amount of influence is a big question), but with a funding proposal for student activities, we have control: We can vote to direct part of our tuition towards funding activities and how it will happen.

Students are not ready to make that decision now. I could promise you everything for a fee, but nobody is going to fall for that. We need time to determine what is possible with a fee and what students lack now and want. We need time to design the MIT we hope to build from the contribution we would ask of students. Those who would be the architects of such an MIT must plan it well, lest if fall like a house of cards with the first breeze of discontent.

Dave Atkins '90->