A Proposal on Special Fees

Last week, I wrote about what I see as the crisis around Special Fees. Autumn Carter responded and a lively dialogue ensued. The purpose of this post will be to expand on a potential solution that I mentioned in my original piece and to call on the ASSU to either adopt my proposal or to come up with another way to reign in Special Fee refunds, preferably while maintaining the current atmosphere of choice that surrounds them. In my last post, I wrote that:

One option is to make any refund go back to the original bill-payer: if mom and dad are paying for the original Stanford special fee, why should the student be able to receive that money later? If it’s a case of sincerely not believing in an organization’s actions, then the student will still see it as worthwhile to refund the fee.

I believe that this proposal, if the ability to put it into practice exists, would help curtail refunds. Perhaps an explanation of the current refund system is in order:

No matter who pays the bill, the student receives all refunds from Stanford. This includes not only active refunds like the ones from Special Fees, but also other refunds. If, for example, a scholarship check is late in arriving and parents cover the difference, a check is subsequently cut to the student for the amount of the late-arriving check. Thus, even though I would postulate that the overwhelming majority of the actual activities fees are paid by families, the a student who refunds Special Fees receives the money himself.

This system encourages selfish taking from the system. I’ve heard anecdotes of people relying on their refund to pay their cable bill. The Special Fees system shouldn’t be a personal piggy bank. To return the refund to its original purpose, we need to still let students be able to punish groups with which they disagree without rewarding indiscriminate refunding. To do this, I would point to my original proposal, which would change the refund system to either return money directly to families or to, at the very least, if it is impractical to send money back to families, to put it towards the next quarter’s bill. Under this system, the punishment mechanism remains intact, but the reward is reduced. No longer could individuals rely on a check for $119 each quarter at the expense of their parents.

Would this eliminate full refunds or other selfish taking? No, of course not. There would certainly be individuals who either feel that it is imperative that their families receive that money (it would be hard to call such individuals truly selfish, although I still feel that $119 would be best used to contribute to Stanford, since they certainly wouldn’t be paying for their Stanford experience personally) or those that make a deal with their parents to refund the money and then get a payment from their parents later. However, by divorcing the process from immediate monetary gain, I think that we would see a fall in the refund rate.

The ASSU is making steps towards controlling Special Fees (even if you think that this move is too harsh, 10 percent is an outrageous increase, as it means a doubling every just over 7 years (7.378…)), but costs are only one side of the equation. Reigning in refunds is arguably both the more important and more difficult side of the equation.

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