The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Meeting, 24 Sep 09

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 24 September 2009

1. Consent Agenda. Continuing ASUA’s long slog from opacity, Sen. Brooks made a nice gesture in actually describing some of the items listed on the consent agenda before the Senate passed. The items – which come for a rubber-stamp from the Appropriations Board – are generally uncontroversial. At the same time, only the Senate members actually see the agenda being approved, a motion which in most cases happens within 15 seconds. Just by stating the club name, along with the amount requested and the amount approved, the Senate gives the audience a sense not only of what kind of money ASUA is spending, but what groups on campus are doing. It’s a small thing, but a nice touch.

2. Think Tank. In what seems to be a continuous parading of SSF-funded organizations to wow the Senate, today’s meeting witnessed a presentation from Think Tank executive director Jeff Orgera.

For all the faults with the Student Services Fee and the Transformation plan, the Think Tank will in all likelihood go down as one of the genuinely good things to come out of it. Unlike the claustrophobia exhibited by other groups on campus, the tutors from the Writing Center and the MASTR (math & science) tutors from the University Learning Center have no difficulty rooming together. Tutoring has expanded to a wide variety of classes (although mostly classes catering to underclassmen).

Yet at the same time, there’s no reason that fee money needs to be used to fund this. Tutoring is a service good, and there are no collective action problems, since the transaction is effectively one-to-one. The Think Tank recognizes this, and some of its services are paid for via one’s Bursar’s account. Yet most services are not, and this UANews article explains why user fees are the exception rather than the rule:

The SALT Center served as a model of the Think Tank, but while the center offers services to students with learning or attention deficits for a fee, most of the services offered through the Think Tank are free.

For starters, uh, TANSTAAFL. Seeing how each and every student pays the SSF, it’s hard to see how exactly this is ‘free’ to anyone. More importantly, though, is the idea that its OK for SALT Center users – those students with learning disabilities – to pay up to $2200 per semester for their tutoring, while students without such LDs can expect free services. Amo libertatem odi aequalitatem, but anyone with the slightest of egalitarian impulses should be a little offended by this disparity.

Yet this doesn’t mean that the University should be mucking around with the SALT Center, which continues its nationally renowned reputation despite being “completely funded by private donations.” Rather, the university and Student Affairs should move towards making more self-sustaining, or at least independent from the SSF. There’s no reason that drop-in advising students shouldn’t pay $10 or $15 for their tutoring, as they did during MASTR’s review sessions [PDF, page 6] last spring. There’s definitely no reason why visits to the Writing Center – in which a student’s essay is broken down in a one-on-one session – should be free. Orgera himself cited a survey in which 30 percent of the 4,000 respondents said they would be willing to pay for tutoring – and if surveys are taken as literally here as they are for the SSF, that means that over half of the 2,200 total visits (not visitors) should involve payment. Orgera cited further demographic information which could be used to implement some differential pricing – discounts could be offered for late-night appointments (the slow hour). Per-head discounts could be offered for large groups – $10-per-person for a group of 3, $5-per-person for a group of 8, etc.

There’s a lot of possibilities here, none of which involve going to the completely unresponsive SSF, in which students who don’t choose to utilize tutoring services are forced to subsidize those that do. But this might be overwhelming for a division of Student Affairs: “You mean, we have to actually draw student in? We can’t just take funds from the SSF cookie jar and cite ‘student priorities’?” A compromise proposal would involve a simultaneous fee switch: reducing the SSF from $40 to $30 per semester, with the addition of a $10-per-semester, fully refundable ‘tutoring fee’. Although many students who glance over their tuition bill will be caught in the snare, this provides an exit option for those who don’t want to use the Think Tank – or those who use other services, like SALT.

3. WRC wants (more) funding. The Women’s Resource Center director, Malia Utahafe, came to solicit “up to $800” from the ASUA Senate, to fund the training of four instructors (two females, two male ‘aggressors’) for their popular self-defense classes. The total cost is $1,440 ($360 per student), and according to Utahafe, once these students received the training they could in turn train more trainers, etc. etc. By all accounts, these classes are extremely popular, in high demand, and one of the definitively good things that the WRC does.

At the same time, this is the same WRC that made off with $129,300 at the last SSF Board hearing. It’s also the same organization that still receives $6,000 from ASUA, even though it is the only professional WRC that remains housed within the student government. If this indeed such an important, long-lasting investment, isn’t in the organization’s interest to fund the training themselves? And, further, if funds run low, isn’t that the whole reason that these executive operations accounts were kept in the first place?

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4 Responses

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  1. Renee Schafer Horton said, on 24 September 2009 at 11:24 am

    Evan:
    You are doing a fabulous job reporting on the fees. This isn’t easy to do and you have a knack for it.
    Renee

  2. Matthew Totlis said, on 24 September 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Evan,

    Impeccable job once again. Slight typo I believe. I haven’t double checked but am fairly certain that WRC received $65,000 for their Director from the SSF. They did apply for the $125,854 figure for

    1 director
    2 admin assistants
    other costs

    but please feel free to check the website
    http://www.studentaffairs.arizona.edu/servicesfee/pdfs/archives/womens_resource_center/wrc_coordinator_budget.pdf

    By the way, how do you know more about this than I do? 🙂

    Matt

    • Evan Lisull said, on 25 September 2009 at 12:02 pm

      Matt, the $129,300 number came from the total amount of funding allocated over the course of two years. From the SSFAB minutes:

      “After much discussion Member Ho called the question to approve the proposal hiring a Director for 2 years at a cost of $64,500 each year plus $300 for signage. The motion was seconded and unanimously approved.”

      While this is being doled over multiple years, it nevertheless represents the total money that the WRC will receive, barring some sort of dramatic change.

      As for your last question – if that’s true (which I highly doubt), it’s the result of an unhealthy, Ahab-like obsession with the SSF.

  3. Matthew Totlis said, on 25 September 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Ah, I see now. Thank you for the clarification. After pouring over the budget for this year my mind is seeing things only as far as my graduation in May. oops.


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