An attempt by the head of Student Affairs to raise a fee for miscellaneous student services has caused a dispute between student leaders and the administration over student involvement in deciding fees.
In Portland State’s climate of limited funds and growing demand, the three-year-old student services resource fee has filled many holes in the student services budget. PSU is the only one of Oregon’s seven public universities with the fee.
A 50-percent increase in the fee next year could have easily been an 80-percent hike, student government President Christy Harper said.
An offhand comment alerted Harper that the Office of Student Affairs had submitted a plan to raise the fee from $5 to $9, she said.
“We did a sort of proposed $9 fee,” Samuels told the student senate. “In the past I’ve never not talked to students about this fee.”
“I asked him, ‘When were you planning on telling students about [the proposed fee]? After it was approved?'” Harper said.
Harper approached Doug Samuels, the vice provost of student affairs, to discuss why the fee had risen. Samuels is the head of the student affairs leadership team, a group of employees from various student service departments who suggest what to charge for the fee. The departments represented, such as the Skills Enhancement and Tutoring Center, Admissions and Records, and the Educational Equity Program, use money from the fee.
After talks with Samuels and later Mike Driscoll, the vice provost for academic personnel and budget, the fee was dropped to $7.50. The final amount will be determined by the Oregon University System Board as soon as Friday, June 3.
The $5 fee was implemented in fall 2002. Samuels said he got student support to double the fee to $10 for 2004-2005, but PSU President Dan Bernstine nixed all fee increases.
Samuels points out that the student services resource fee is unique in that students are involved at all. Departments, schools and colleges may assess resource fees without any student input.
Besides being raised without student input, Harper said the fee is used inappropriately, providing funding for programs simply because it is accessible to the cash-strapped university.
Samuels said he had been required to turn in the proposal months earlier than in previous years and hadn’t approached students earlier because he wanted to be able to give an accurate figure. He also called the situation a “miscommunication.”
“Communication might have missed here and there. It’s often a very complicated and complex process.”
“There was no miscommunication,” Harper said. “There was zero communication.”
“There must be communication on your part to begin with for miscommunication to even happen,” Harper responded to Samuels after the senate meeting in an email. “I challenge you to prove to anyone that you made that effort.”
Harper said this is typical of her experience working with Samuels.
“He’s the vice provost of student affairs. He never comes in here, he never calls.”
Agnes Hoffman, the associate vice provost for enrollment, told the senate in the same meeting that the fee is used to fund projects not necessarily because it is the most logical funding source.
“When my office implemented [SEVIS, a federally-mandated program], to be honest, that was the only funding source available to us,” Hoffman said.
“The school has been doing everything to protect academics, and they’ve been slashing student services,” Harper said. “There are things you have to pay for to have a university run well. You can’t just charge it to students.”
The Multicultural Center, she pointed out, is supported by student fees. “Our university has an initiative on diversity and they don’t want to pay for it.”
“I understand we’re in a budget crunch,” Harper said, “but the university has got to start changing the culture of students paying for everything.”
“It’s a cost that is justifiable considering the state funding,” Samuels said. “What would be ideal is if no one had to pay fees, if you didn’t pay a fee to be a business or fine and performing arts or computer science major. Given the funding crisis in the sate, tuition just isn’t enough to support teaching and services.”