Support the Student Life Fee, But...Undergraduates will soon have a rare opportunity to vote to take money out of the hands of administrators and put it under student control. The Undergraduate Association's proposal for a "Student Life Fee" aims to consolidate funding for athletics, student activities, and student services. This lump sum would appear on students' bills from the Bursar's Office and would be included in MIT's official student budgeting and financial aid decisions. The fee money would be administered and allocated by the UA Finance Board.
The UA will present the fee proposal in a four-question referendum next Thursday and Friday. The first question asks whether students should determine how much money is made available to student activities, and the second asks how that determination will be made. The third question asks whether athletic cards should be eliminated, and the fourth whether students should set funding for the Course Evaluation Guide.
Though the fee would give students more control over their MIT experiences, there are subtleties to its provisions that need to be considered. The first is the elimination of athletic cards, accomplished by adding their $20 cost to the fee. This is certainly a great convenience for students who use the athletic facilities, but students who don't will find themselves paying $20 anyway. Admittedly, these students are in the minority, but that in no way means they should be forced to subsidize the conveniences of others. Students should vote "no" on question 2.
A broader concern is management of the fee money. FinBoard has been allocating funds to student activities for several years, but this task is likely to become far more difficult after a fee is enacted. Given the opportunity, students are likely to greatly increase funding for student activities. After all, who wouldn't want to see more fun things happening on campus?
Unfortunately, this increase in funding will greatly increase the possibility of mismanagement and sloppy allocation. Though FinBoard has made several admirable steps toward tightening the allocation procedures, another solution seems more effective: Merge FinBoard with the Association of Student Activities. At present, ASA does little more than recognize student activities, and FinBoard does little more than allocate money to them. A union of the two could be an effective representative body. Each student activity would have a say in approving or rejecting a funding plan for itself and other activities. By separating from the UA and moving closer to the activities that rely so heavily upon it, FinBoard would become fairer and better attuned to the needs of each group.
Students should jump at the chance to control funding of the campus activities and services that are intended for them in the first place. But this change should not force students to pay for facilities they don't use, nor should it lead to unfair funding of student activities.