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Students Oppose Fee for Group Exercise Classes

By Jolene M. Singh

Last Saturday, in an effort to discourage registration for fee-based group exercise classes, a group of MIT students, alumni, faculty and staff began posting signs to protest $60 fees for programs at the Al and Barrie Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center. Much of the dissatisfaction is directed towards the employees and practices of the Health Fitness Corporation, which oversees the management of the Z Center.

The recent postering against fee-based classes and Tuesday's letter to the editor, titled “Zesiger Center Staff: Sacrificing Community for Profits,” by Adriane Faust ’98, show that some members of the MIT community are dissatisfied with certain aspects of their experience at the Z Center.

Tim Moore, Z Center General Manager, said that physical education classes are designed to accommodate a wide range of fitness and skill levels. In contrast, specialty and fee-based classes are designed to focus on more advanced movements and workout. The specialty classes were developed to expand group exercise offerings and address a growing interest in this activity area, he said.

Mixed feelings about fee classes

In addition to gripes about student life fees and increased membership fees, some faculty, alumni and students have voiced their concern over fee-based fitness classes offered after the opening of the Z Center.

Ayanna Samuels G directed her criticism toward the HFC, saying, “I have been very disappointed with the recent changes imposed on us by the HFC management and I am turned off that the good PE classes are not being offered free with tuition.”

Ji-Eun Kim G concurred. “PE classes should be for the welfare of the students, not for profit-making,” she said.

Protestors had other concerns about the classes. Ellen Ko, for instance, claimed that the instructor of yoga for relaxation, a free class offered during the first quarter of P.E. classes, was dangerous.

“The instructor gave almost no instruction whatsoever. She talked a lot and did not correct people who exhibited bad form,” Ko said. However, Ko said that power yoga, another free class offered through the DAPER lottery, was a good, instructive class.

Jennifer J. Cheng G said, “The Z Center is supposed to be for the MIT community. I love P.E. classes. My concern is that we are not getting advanced ones” through the traditional PE lottery system.

Cheng, however, said that she would accept a fee for the right reasons. “If it’s reasonable, I would be willing to pay for a class. For instance, if we need equipment for advanced kickboxing, I would be willing to pay a fee,” she said.

Ko’s husband, David M. Sachs G, who participated in the postering, said that, “I noticed that the signs were being taken down almost instantaneously. I suspect that I was being followed.”

Sachs said that he e-mailed Candace L. Royer, director of athletics, about the incident on Tuesday, and said he has not yet received a response.

HFC explains role at Z center

On its web site, HFC, which has recently acquired a management contract with Duke University's athletics center, reports that it “consistently scores in the 98th percentile for client satisfaction and meets or exceeds overall member satisfaction.”

The Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation website lists over 125 for-credit class offerings. Of the classes listed, well over 75 percent are available to registered students and Z center members for free. Some classes, like Scuba or Lifeguard Training, have always carried equipment fees. In addition, specialty classes and some group exercises now carry fees of $30 or more.

Moore said that traditional PE group exercise classes do not carry a fee and that the free PE classes offered before HFC came to MIT will continue to be a mainstay of DAPER programming. Fee-based classes were developed “to expand the recreational opportunities offered to students” and other patrons, he said.

Moore said HFC negotiated with DAPER to ensure that students who wanted to take the newly developed group exercise or specialty classes would be able to receive PE credit.

“I think HFC is seen as a corporate entity and that’s simply not accurate. My entire career has been in collegiate recreation and although there is a limited budget to provide new classes, HFC’s goal has always been to develop activities at the most affordable cost for students and other Zesiger Center members,” he said.

“Like most sport and fitness centers on college and university campuses, Zesiger Center revenues are generated through the sale of memberships and passes, student activity fees, locker and facility rentals, special events, and other program fees,” Moore said.

Moore added that the HFC “developed incentive programs to cater to the needs of competitive, goal-oriented individuals at MIT.” He listed as examples the Swim Across Cape Cod Day, the Zesiger Indoor Triathlon, and the upcoming Cardio Conquest incentive programs.

In addition to developing new fitness and aquatics programs, Moore said that the HFC also offers student employment opportunities. There are currently 40 active student workers and the Z Center is looking to hire more, particularly for a new position -- group exercise monitors. These students workers will receive hourly wages as well as a free $70 bonus pass.

“We routinely get input from our members and that informs everything that we do,” Moore said.

Cost controversy not new

Disputes over athletic fees are not something new to the Z Center.

In the early stages of development, controversy arose with the establishment of a $200 student life fee, which goes toward supporting the cost of the athletic facility as well as supporting other student life programs.

MIT staff members also saw their annual athletics center membership costs rise to $375 from $150. A faculty member who wished to remain anonymous said that she hoped the higher fees would not eliminate staff participation in athletic activities and that she would be upset if the classes that she liked were cancelled because staff could no longer afford to participate.

Despite general opposition, the compulsory student life fees and staff athletics center membership cost increases were instituted by MIT as of September 2002 and have remained ever since.