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Irresponsible fees

Published: April 23, 2010
Section: Opinions


On Monday April 26, in the midst of a recession, Brandeis students will vote on an amendment to the Student Union Constitution that would require all students, regardless of financial background, to pay a $7.50 fee every semester to create a sustainability fund with an annual budget of $49,755.  Instead of setting up a stand in the dining hall or distributing brochures to solicit students for money as would any other club or organization, the amendment’s sponsor, Students for Environmental Action (SEA), has chosen to require that all students support its work.

To the members of SEA, supporting this initiative makes sense; after all, they believe that the extra $49,755, (a calculation based on current undergraduate student enrollment figures) could help them carry out their mission of supporting environmental work.  Having recently lost their bid to become a secured Student Union club, SEA seeks new ways to generate revenue to implement many of its proposed programs.

Campus sustainability is a worthy goal, just as reducing hunger, helping the underprivileged, giving blood and rallying for human rights are all positive social initiatives.  The trouble is that students prioritize these issues differently.  Constitutional amendments mandating fees should not be the way out for clubs looking to fund their projects.

As a campus community, we must ensure that all student initiatives have the support to move forward.  That’s the purpose of the finance board—to distribute the Student Activities Fee (SAF) to clubs and advocacy groups based on their specific programming and intended contributions to the Brandeis campus.  Some ideas are feasible while others are not.  The finance board looks at all data and prioritizes projects that deserve support.  The finance board, in other words, holds clubs accountable.

The proposed sustainability fund would undermine the finance board and would not be accountable to the students who would be forced to fund it.  Money from the fund would be available to be used for any number of SEA projects, without any guarantee that students will support the initiatives or that they will be successful.  The finance board looks at a club’s past history when determining its allocations; if a club proposed five events but held one, it holds less weight than a more financially stable club.  Regardless of management, the sustainability fund would always receive funding in the form of your semi-annual, required $7.50 fee.

Some students will argue that the fee does not amount to much money. Nevertheless, the precedent set by the fund also raises the possibility of future fees, including fees for any number of popular student campaigns.  (Flooding in your residence hall? How about a $7.50 fee to fix that problem.)  Instead of fundraising the old-fashioned way or living within their F-board budget, students will begin to rely on institutionalized fees to support their projects, a dynamic that certainly does not reflect the workings of the real world—imagine if the federal government or City Hall proposed a “sustainability fee.”

And better options exist.  Last semester, Brandeis collaborated with a private firm to bring solar panels to campus at no initial cost to the university, as part of a power purchasing agreement.  Although electricity from these solar panels currently costs one extra cent per kilowatt hour than regular electricity as part of the agreement, these solar panels were installed without raising money from students, and the expectation is that over the life of the panels, the university will save money. This commendable initiative shows that sustainability is possible without unduly increasing students’ financial burden.

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, previous versions of this article misstated the cost of the proposed sustainability fee and the cost to students of previously installed solar panels at Brandeis. The sustainability fee is $7.50 per semester, not $7.50 per year, and the solar panels are not entirely free, as electricity generated by the panels costs the university 1 extra cent per kilowatt hour more than regular electricity sources. We regret these errors.