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UCS approves student activities fee increase

UCS general body members express concerns about fee allocation, effect on low-income students

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

After tabling the vote last week, the Undergraduate Council of Students approved a proposal from the Undergraduate Finance Board to recommend that the University Resources Committee increase the Student Activities Fee by $21, bringing the fee to $295 per student for the 2018-19 academic year. After further conversations with groups who could be affected most, UCS reached the required two-thirds majority.

UFB’s budget comes from the Student Activities Fee — paid by all students in addition to their tuition. According to its constitution, UFB can recommend a change in the Student Activities Fee to UCS, but only UCS can officially propose an increase to the URC — a group comprised of administrators, faculty and students — that recommends the annual budget to the president.

UFB Chair Yuzuka Akasaka ’18 and Vice Chair Drew To ’19, who drafted the proposal, told UCS members in their presentation last Wednesday that UFB currently operates at a $130,000 deficit in its allocation of funds to student groups. The $21 increase would grow UFB’s budget by $138,000 and cover the current shortages. The deficit ballooned after UFB had to start funding a stream of clubs previously supported by academic departments and because of natural increases in prices due to inflation, Akasaka and To said. In the 2016 Spring budgeting process, Category III student groups requested approximately $1.44 million in budgeting, but UFB was only able to allocate $1.298 million for the 2017-18 academic year, according to the resolution.

UCS members expressed concerns in its meeting last week about a lack of information regarding the need for an increase. At last week’s UCS meeting in which it tabled the vote, Lisa Schold ’19 said  that “without having received more time to discuss this with more students on campus, it seems like a hard decision just to make with this small student body.” Schold is the UCS liaison to UFB, but even she had not previously seen the resolution, she said.

UCS members met with Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Eric Estes, as well members of QuestBridge and FirstGens@Brown about the fee raise Friday, according to an email that UCS President Chelse-Amoy Steele ’18 sent to the general body.

UCS members voted in an online survey that was open from 11:44 p.m. Monday night to 5 p.m. Tuesday. Wednesday, Steele wrote to the UCS general body that over two-thirds of the group had voted to approve the increase.

Steele and To did not respond to requests for comments by press time.

In internal UCS notes shared with The Herald about the “emergency voting meeting”, UCS members provided more clarity about their concerns.

For example, members were worried the fee increase would impact students from low-income backgrounds more than those from high-income backgrounds. According to the notes, Steele had conversations with Estes and other administrators in which they told her that the “raise would affect middle-income students/highest paying students at Brown,” and would have “no effect on low-income students,” as  “students on higher financial aid would not feel effects as much.”

Students also expressed concerns that significant amounts of UFB’s budget goes to University administrative services. UFB allocated approximately $377,600 to the “Department of Public Safety, the Fire Marshall, Computing Information Services Web Services, et cetera,” according to the resolution. This cost rose $78,000 from the previous year.

According to the notes about Friday’s meeting, members hope that “some costs could be shouldered by (the) University,” since “sometimes (the Student Activities) fee doesn’t feel like it goes back towards students,” and rather “seems like it goes to extraneous things.”