SAFAC orgs discover how little student voice matters on campus

How much does your voice matter? Here’s a hint: not that much

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SAFAC orgs discover how little student voice matters on campus

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“Don’t stop trying, make sure you get to our team.” -Chief Operating Officer and former Board of Trustees member Scott Kunselman.

“I want to get to know students and have students get to know me. I am interested in understanding what issues are of importance to you,” -University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz.

“As much as you speak up and make us aware, we can advocate strongly for changes within our campus community,” -Vice President of Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Glenn McIntosh.

“It’s very nice being able to work with the students and it’s rewarding because you can see the impact you’re having,” –Director of Budget and Financial Planning Michele Knox.

The above statements were all given during conversations about student concerns on various issues. As students, we are told time and time again that our voice is important to administrators. But is that true?

Not necessarily. Here’s why.

According to Thomas LeMarbe, assistant vice president for finance and administration, Oakland University eliminated all fees back in 2006 due to several voiced concerns from the university community. The plan was to eliminate course fees so students could pay the same amount for tuition but receive more financial aid. Because this was so successful, Oakland decided to eliminate all fees— including fees for parking and OU Rec Well — and roll them into tuition. One of these fees is the Student Activity Fee (SAF).

The SAF funds all student organizations, including Student Activity Fee Assessment Committee organizations such as Oakland University Student Congress, The Oakland Post, 88.3 FM WXOU, the Student Program Board, Student Video Productions, Club Sports, the Student Life and Lecture Board and the Student Activity Funding Board (SAFB). Confused? So were we.

SAFB’s role is to fund all non-SAFAC organizations. There are over 320 student-led organizations and SAFB is given 27 percent of the SAF’s fund, the largest percent, to fund as many student organizations as possible.

“Our funds go straight to the orgs,” said SAFB Chair Kayla Dafoe. “Without us, honestly, I don’t think there would be organizations on campus. We fund conferences, any events, any speakers they want on campus, food, equipment, everything.”

In 2011, the student body voted to raise the SAF from $25 a semester per student to $30. After considering this vote, university administrators and the Board of Trustees raised it to $27.50 a semester. This vote cannot be found in the April, June or August BOT meeting minutes. Historically, these meetings are when tuition matters are voted on.

The 2011 Student Congress resolution seeking a $5 per student increase in student activity funding was reviewed by the President and Cabinet,” said John Beaghan, vice president for finance and administration & treasurer to the BOT. “It was determined by the President and Cabinet that a $2.50 per student increase would be funded. This increase was included in the Board approved budget for that year. As enrollment grew for 23 straight years, the gross student activity funding increased.”

Any student who attends events or is involved in a student organization is affected by this fee. OU is known as a commuter campus and SAFAC works hard to create memorable experiences for students. In order to do this, appropriate funding is key. Nobody wants to pay more for tuition, as we have seen over the course of four years. However, this was a decision made by students, for the students seven years ago.

A few months ago, Director of the Center for Student Activities Jean Ann Miller brought this partial raise to the SAFAC leaders. To become more in line with the industry standard SAF for a university Oakland’s size, the SAFAC leaders proposed to raise the SAF to $50. Had it been approved, it would have gone on the 2018-19 OUSC ballot where the student body could vote to or not to approve this Fee.

However, according to LeMarbe and Knox, even if the referendum passed, it still wouldn’t have gone to the BOT. It would cause Oakland to pass a tuition cap set by the state of Michigan, even though a raise in SAF to $50 from Oakland’s current tuition would be about a 0.2 percent increase.

This state cap has inhibited Oakland administration from raising the SAF, according to Knox. She said the SAF has been on a “list of priorities” of things to fund, along with other much-needed improvements like a Varner Hall renovation, for at least the last seven years.

“Every year the needs are evaluated and brought to the table by the vice presidents of each division and, to make it simple, ranked based on the strategic priorities of the university,” Knox said. “Unless Student Congress had gone back to the vice president of student affairs and they had brought that to the table as a high priority, nobody would be aware you were still wanting incremental, so it starts fresh every year…now maybe if it went back to the vice president of student affairs but I don’t see that happening. There are a lot of needs across the campus and a lot of the time it’s the squeaky wheel and stuff gets pulled to the top.”

This academic year, Knox raised the SAF from $27.50 to $28 unbeknownst to the CSA. Since enrollment was down this year, this small raise did not increase the SAF’s total amount but allowed it to remain stagnant. Because the SAF is now rolled into tuition along with other former “fees,” administration does not have to notify the campus community when certain prices go up.

“We raised it this year to $28, it’s in the calculation because I was watching what I put in the budget due to headcount and what was going in because headcount is declining this year, and you weren’t getting as much as what I had put in the budget so I proposed to tweak it, even if it’s a little more,” Knox said.

But the small increase leading to more SAFB funds would be important in the next few years if Oakland wants the Oakland Center renovation and other campus life initiatives to thrive, which, according to Miller, is the expectation of administrators.

This year alone, SAFB has helped students orgs like newly created Black Graduate Student Association of Oakland University, (BGSA), Habitat for Humanity, Gold Vibrations A Cappella and Beta Alpha Psi fraternity.

“With SAFB funding, we have been able to invest in our group and worry less about the financial burdens because of the resources they have provided,” said Gold Vibrations Treasurer Maria Gutowski.

Some of the most popular campus events are made possible by the SAF: Meadowbrook Ball; Springfest; De-stress for Finals; featuring acts like Nick Jonas and Iggy Azalea; The WXOU Birthday Bash; speakers like Dave Coulier, Bill Nye and Laverne Cox; Casino Night; The GSA Drag Show; OU Dance- A-Thon; football goal posts and tailgates; OU Day at the Capitol; SVP Movie Nights; SPB Hump Days and trips. To put it simply, this fee is what makes student life vibrant.

When the SAF increase was brought up in 2011, there were only 208 registered student orgs on campus and students still wished for an increase. It’s imperative that the SAF is raised to accommodate aforementioned 320 student groups active today.

Members of the administration, according to Knox, worry that student orgs wish for more money though they don’t utilize every dollar in their account.

“You [student orgs] have not been spending everything that you have,” Knox said. “You have been carrying forward near a half a million dollars each year, so we just roll that forward for you. This year, $1.1 million was actually spent and you have $1.7 to spend with your carry forward.”

Though student orgs do not spend all of the SAF, money saved has resulted in events like SPB’s spring concert featuring Nick Jonas to be able to be able to happen.

Student Body President Lena Mishack finds the situation troubling, feeling that student voice and action is something administrators should listen to.

“To me, this situation is important because it’s been a very long time since our student organizations received an increase in funding, and there is a lot of need technology and equipment wise for some of our SAFAC organizations just to meet basic industry standards,” she said. “Plus, we have a consistently growing number of student organizations funded by SAFB, so eventually we will need to increase SAF to adequately fund them.”

Mishack has also sent a resolution of the 2011 vote to Vice President of Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Glenn McIntosh’s office. If accepted by McIntosh, this resolution will go to the BOT, which meets again April 9, for consideration.

“The resolution right now is submitted to Vice President McIntosh’s office to be put on the BOT agenda,” Mishack said. “Right now we’re still waiting to hear back. I’m hoping by doing this Student Affairs will see a need for our student organizations, along with want from our students, and work to allocate more money to the SAF.”

This year’s administration has told us our voice matters. Though this issue is not the fault of the current administration, namely University President Pescovitz, it is something that is in their power to improve. Raising this fee would be a good way for them to show us our voice is truly important.

How SAFAC orgs would utilize extra money 

Student Program Board: “Increased Student Activity Fees will allow the Student Program Board to plan more monumental events that students look forward to such as Casino Night, Carnival and Hump Days and give us more opportunities to bring exciting things to our campus.”

Oakland University Student Congress: “If OUSC was given an increase to our allocation, we could provide more long-term initiatives and programs to students such as more hammocks, recycling bins, furniture for Hamlin Circle and items for our swag-exchange program.”

Student Activities Funding Board: “The more money the Student Activities Funding Board receives, the more money we are able to allocate to organizations which will improve campus culture while giving more opportunities to students.”

Club Sports: “Having more money for club sports would allow clubs to represent Oakland at a higher level and potentially host more home games. There are costs associated with games on and off campus, so more money would allow these students to provide more student life experiences for students on campus, as well as represent Oakland in various different states and potentially nationals.”

The Oakland Post: “With increased resources, The Post could move toward any number of things including better technology for producing issues, more issues of The Pioneer, video equipment and more that would give our campus the best reporting possible.”

88.3 FM WXOU: “An increase in SAF funding would help WXOU in staying up to date with the constantly changing landscape of the media industry, and furthermore would allow us to provide a more relevant learning experience for our members who plan to pursue a career in broadcasting.”

Student Video Productions:  “Increasing the student activities fund would benefit SVP in many ways. We would get better equipment for our members, and it would help us have bigger events on campus to gain recognition. If we had an increase in funding, we could probably set up our own studio with the proper lighting, sound and overall production equipment.”