The new mandatory student fee may have been a necessary measure to help offset the Institute’s budget shortfall, but the circumstances do not explain the way in which it was enacted and announced. Exhibiting a low level of transparency, the Board of Regents decided to circumvent the established rules for mandatory fee changes and announced the new fee the night before it was voted on, leaving no time for those most affected to react.
Prior communication with the Student Government Association had suggested that such a measure would only be considered if the budget shortfall reached 10 percent, and that it would most likely begin in Fall 2009. At no point did the Board of Regents consult with SGA or the general student body when it realized that the deficit had reached eight percent, and that the financial strains were great enough to institute a system-wide fee increase right away. Their sudden decision, announced in a brief e-mail during finals week, left many of us surprised and disappointed.
The process in which the fee was enacted was inconsiderate towards the student body, who we feel would have understood the dire circumstances and could have used more advance notice to prepare for the increase in fees. Students have also been hurt by the recession, yet no thought was given to providing an exception or alternative to low-income recipients of financial aid.
Also of concern is the fact that the fee has been termed a general purpose fee, resulting in even more confusion. Unlike with traditional fees (such as the health fee), students have no input or direct knowledge of where the funds will be spent. One-hundred dollars may seem like a small number in the face of a multi-million dollar shortfall, but students deserve to know how this amount was determined and where it will be directed.
Although it has been emphasized that this fee is temporary, all credible forecasts point to a lingering, and perhaps even worsening, economic slump. If the Board of Regents is contemplating extending the fee to the summer or even fall semester, advance communication with students should be exercised. Even more than an inconsiderate gesture, the quick and convenient process they undertook represents a negative precedent for the future.
The Board of Regents has had to make difficult decisions to maintain the quality of our education. If the starkest predictions come true, these will likely not be the last difficult decisions to be made, and increased transparency and efficiency will be needed more than ever.