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Saturday, July 31, 2021

ASUCD, Student Affairs find compromise to fill budget gap

As the Office of Student Affairs looks to bridge its budget deficit, ASUCD is searching for reassurance that money won’t be taken from student-voted campus-based fees.

Following several weeks of meetings between ASUCD and the Student Affairs administration, Associate Vice Chancellor Janet Gong announced last week that the additional $1.34 to $1.64 million budget shortfall for next year will not be met by assessing, or taking from, campus-based fees themselves. Instead, the money will be pulled from a surplus in building reserves, which are still part of the campus-based fee’s budget but are set aside for maintenance and repairs.

“Ideally, I don’t want to see any campus based fees being used to meet this budget deficit because I believe that campus based fees should only be used for what the student body voted on, not for future demands – such as the current budget crises,” said Joe Chatham, ASUCD president in an e-mail interview.

Chatham said the Student Affairs administration was receptive to his concerns and included a set of principles to limit a campus based fee assessment and define the circumstances when it would be appropriate.

“It was a compromise and both parties had to give some ground, but overall I think we negotiated an acceptable solution which gives consideration to student rights and concerns,” Chatham said.

All campus-based fees are voted on by students and supervised by ASUCD. They can range in amount depending on what the fee is designated to fund. Prior well-known fees have included the FACE initiative passed in 1999, which built the ARC and Aggie Stadium, and the UNITRANS fee, which helps fund student transportation.

Negotiations between ASUCD and Student Affairs began early spring quarter, after the announcement of a $1.34 to $1.64 million additional cut to Student Affairs’ budget for 2009-2010. After discussing several options to negotiate the cuts, ASUCD passed an emergency senate resolution on May 7, requesting that the budget proposal include language that specifically defines the “extraordinary campus budget circumstances” the university faces, and limits the degree to which the university has the authority to assess money from campus based fees, now and in the future.

“One such proposal [to bridge to the budget gap] was the idea to place an assessment on campus-based fees,” said Eli Yani, ASUCD Controller in an e-mail interview.” ASUCD has come out against this on the grounds of what campus-based fees are. When we as students vote on these fee initiatives, it is as if we are signing a contract that we would like to conditionally raise our fees so long as the raise goes toward whatever the ballot calls for. By assessing these fees, Student Affairs is essentially violating these contracts and appropriating money to where it wasn’t intended to go.”

In response to these concerns, Vice Chancellor Janet Gong and the Student Affairs administration agreed to only use a “small amount of campus based fees, in a highly principled way” Gong said, and in a manner that is in cooperation with student leadership and is not precedent-setting for the future.

“The word assessment implies precedent, that we would take money each and every year from now on, and this is not what we have in mind – what we have in mind is a one time, temporary use, under extraordinary times that we have defined” Gong said.

“We will take one-time money from these reserves to apply to the budget reductions that we have so that all student services are treated equally – there will not be a disproportionate reduction,” Gong said. “The funds will be taken only from reserves, and only the reserves related to maintenance – so the net impact of this would be hoping to defer maintenance on buildings, in order to protect an equal and fair treatment of student services.”

Gong said Student Affairs submitted a budget proposal to the provost last week, which included a defined set of principles to ensure the specific use of the fees, the importance of student oversight and involvement and a specific definition of the extraordinary budget circumstances which the university currently faces.

 

MICHELLE IMMEL can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

 

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