Fees are a two-sided issue. As a way to itemize each term’s bill, they’re sort of handy. A quick glance at UAOnline makes it easy to find out how much of a semester’s bill goes toward transportation, and how much is for student life and the health center and departmental fees.
Reading through my account for this semester, I am paying nine fees. Four more charges are fees by another name (Mandatory Health Ctr/Semester, UA Network Charge-2, and so on). Some, such as a lab charge, I am choosing to pay because I’m taking an elective class. Others, including the Student Life fee, are absolutely mandatory. To a certain extent, I think that our Fun Star story about the Board of Regents eliminating tuition and replacing it with a tuition fee is not as far-fetched as the rest of the Fun Star was.
I don’t object to paying for many of those services. I understand that labs are more expensive than lectures and I’m glad that seven percent of my student government fee funds the student newspaper. But instituting new fees is not an appropriate way to lift a department out of a budget deficit or circumvent inadequate legislative funding.
This semester, fees are a little more than 20 percent of my bill – and I didn’t buy a parking permit.
Fees have to be approved (either by the president, or a Chancellor or other administrator if the president delegates them that power) before they can appear on the list of semester charges, but it doesn’t seem like much of a battle. The athletics department successfully lobbied for a fee and they don’t provide a service to most students – nor were students given a voice in the decision.
There is a reason why the fees get passed. The legislature caps its funding at a certain level, and getting a budget item fully-funded is challenging. Tuition raises, the obvious choice for covering costs, are hugely unpopular. And with a fee, the Regents don’t have to ask the legislature to increase its contribution every year – the department
administering the fee just has to operate within set constraints.
Occasionally, like last year, students vote to accept a fee because the money goes to a cause they believe in.
But fees that are set upon students to bail out departments that aren’t living within their means are unreasonable. Past fees are a done deal. But I hope that future fees will be treated with more scrutiny. The president should avoid delegating power to anyone who is fee-happy, and consider the necessity of each fee carefully. If a fee should really be part of tuition, call a spade a spade and ask for another percentage in the raise. Student government should remind the president about what students need and want when a new fee is up for discussion. And students need to make it clear that instituting fees is like pulling all-nighters: acceptable on infrequent occasions when necessary and absolutely miserable when required regularly.