Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXXII - Issue 1 - News
The Special Fees Saga Continues
by Ryan Wisnesky
News Staff Writer
The ASSU Undergraduate Senate will debate proposed solutions to the current special fees budget crisis on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 11 and 12. Due to increasing rates of student requested refunds, it is projected that the special fee system will soon not be able to give student groups the full amount they request in the spring special fees vote.
In previous years, the ASSU has maintained a special buffer fund to cover the cost of student refunds. When a group is allotted a specific amount of funds in the spring, they are given the full amount regardless of student refunds. When a student requests a refund, the amount is taken out of the buffer fund. Each student contributes to the buffer fund when they pay their special fees. This year, special fees are about $90 per quarter.
This system guarantees each group that receives funding gets the same amount of funding requested on the spring ballot, enabling student groups to plan their budgets for the next year. The buffer shields groups from fluctuations in income.
However, because students can request a refund from a group regardless of whether or not they voted for that group in the spring, the system allows for students to take advantage of the system by essentially forcing other students to pay their special fee via the buffer fund fee.
In recent years, the number of students requesting refunds has increased dramatically. This year there were so many requests that it is projected that refunds may soon be larger than the buffer fund.
Proposals to fix the system
With the special fees situation becoming more and more unstable, the ASSU Senate is set to debate both short-term and long-term solutions to the crisis. Among the proposed solutions that directly deal with the funds are passing refunds onto groups that have over a 16% refund rate and having each student group sign a contract agreeing to cover refund costs regardless of amount.
In addition, the ASSU Senate is considering a change in the voting process. One proposal would change a student's default vote from "abstain" to "no". In addition, if a vote is not entered, the student will be prompted to ensure that they wished to abstain.
Another proposal is to begin a program of voter education. Links to the full budget for a student group would be available from the voting website along with membership numbers and the number of students participating in the group's events.
The most direct solution is to simply have a binding vote. After voting, each student would commit to give the groups they voted for the specified amount of money. That way, students would only pay for the groups they want and the groups would know immediately how much money they would have in the upcoming year.
ASSU President Nadiya Figueroa objects to the binding vote, saying "we would lose the feedback mechanism of the refund system - that is, students give feedback to groups on their satisfaction with a group's work by requesting a refund. Also, we tie names and Ids [student identification numbers] to refunds and we cannot tie that information to votes rendered in an election [due to voter privacy]."
The Senate is also considering taking confidential surveys of why students are requesting refunds and potentially preventing groups with large refund rates from being placed on the ballot in the future.
As the debate about the special fees system continues, many students are forming strong opinions about the situation.
Sophomore Jeff Sun comments "it makes very little sense to fund organizations on the ballot regardless if students wish to fund those organizations."
"The special fees system is partly based on the premise that students are free to fund only those organizations they wish to fund, so funding all the organizations anyway by overcharging students is 1. inconsistent with that premise, and 2. basically robbing money from students."
ASSU Senator Chris Lin notes that "refunds are not meant as another manner of voting."
With so much at stake, the ASSU is carefully considering its options, and only time will tell what the outcome of what may be known as the special fee saga will be.
Page last modified on Thursday, 02-Mar-2006 00:31:39 MST.