I certainly agree that Georgia and the rest of the nation are enduring difficult economic times, and I agree with the Board of Regents’ decision to seek ways to continue to provide its students with the best quality education possible.
However, upon reading the letter from Chancellor Davis regarding the temporary student fee that was attached to [the] recent campus bulletin email, I was confused by the Board’s method of budget reduction.
The following is an excerpt from Chancellor Davis’ letter:
“In August, the Board of Regents took action to reduce current Fiscal Year 2009 operating budgets by six percent. In addition, the board approved in concept reduction plans totaling eight and ten percent. Economic indicators now make it clear that we must make a further reduction to the eight percent level. Accordingly, the regents met today and approved two of the steps it had previously adopted in concept, back in August.”
One would assume that the next portion of the letter would explain the cutbacks and/or other cost-saving tactics the Board had enacted, but instead the reader is informed of an increase in cost—in both student fees and employee health insurance.
I must admit that I am not an Economics major or very well learned in the subject, but it doesn’t take much intelligence to see that a “budget reduction” should not equal “cost increase.”
These “concept reduction plans” sound more like the Board is employing a fudge factor and some fuzzy math to make up for poor planning from the beginning, or at least a lack of fortitude to make the hard decisions and cut down on spending. It would be intriguing to learn what other possible steps the Board approved in concept during their August meeting.
A cost increase by any other name would smell sweeter, but trying to couch it in terms of budget reductions and hard economic times isn’t fooling anyone. I think the students and employees of the University System of Georgia deserve more credit than that.
Tech should spend new fee on sustainability
Beginning this semester, a new $100 mandatory student fee was added to the tuition of all Georgia Tech students. This fee was approved by the Board of Regents with virtually no input from students even though we will be paying for it out-of-pocket, since it is not covered by HOPE.
We are all aware that Georgia is in a budget crisis and, not surprisingly, education is taking a big hit as a result. What has not yet been discussed, at least not to my knowledge, is exactly how this money will be spent. Though students may not have had a say in whether or not the fee was approved, we should be proactive in letting the administration know that we support funding energy efficiency and conservation projects to save the Institute money and promote sustainability.
This investment would be consistent with Interim President Schuster’s statement that Tech can grow stronger as a result of the opportunity to create efficiencies and reduce costs.
Few people realize that campus energy costs have risen by roughly 400 percent over the last 10 years. This has put significant pressure on Georgia Tech Facilities to pay the campus utility bills while continuing to make ends meet for their various other programs. With the current budget cuts forcing layoffs in our recycling [program] and other departments on campus, it is quickly becoming more and more difficult to support important programs like dual-stream recycling and efficiency upgrades such as LED lighting in existing buildings.
We must take immediate action to make changes that will conserve energy on our campus and in our communities to protect ourselves from soaring energy costs and the numerous other consequences to the environment. This fee would be most wisely used to fund just that [and] help avoid budget shortfalls in the future.
I strongly advocate using at least 25 percent of this temporary fee to cut campus energy consumption as much as possible with the nearly half a million dollars that would be available. But we should not stop there. The savings (or at least a large portion of it) should be reinvested into what is known as a Revolving Loan Fund for Sustainability on campus.
Such funds have been started at public and private universities across the country with tremendous success. The most prominent example is Harvard’s Green Campus Loan Fund, which is currently growing more quickly than their multi-billion dollar endowment. Harvard saves over $2 million dollars per year by investing in projects that reduce the University’s environmental impacts and have a payback period of five to 10 years or less, which results in a reduction of campus greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70 million pounds annually.
Why shouldn’t Tech use part of the new temporary student fee to start its own sustainable revolving loan fund? From my perspective we have nothing to lose and the world to gain.
The author is president of Students Organizing for Sustainability.