OSPIRG makes final bid for funding

The Portland State chapter of OSPIRG requested $125,135 from the Student Fee Committee (SFC) yesterday in a third and perhaps final attempt to restore what the group says is the necessary level of funding to keep the chapter alive.

The feud between Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) and the SFC began when the committee gave the group $21,000 in student fees in 2003. Until that year, OSPIRG had received over $100,000 per year.

The seven-student-member SFC is charged with allocating over $7.6 million in student fees to student athletics and over 80 student groups each year. Groups overseen by the SFC have initially requested over $9 million in funds this year.

Last year, OSPIRG requested $123,353 from the SFC for its 2004-05 budget but only received $33,765. The group has continued to argue that the current level of funding is not enough to sustain the school’s chapter.

If the group does not succeed in receiving its requested level of funds this year, the school chapter will most likely disappear, according to Meredith Small, campus coordinator for OSPIRG at PSU.

"This is kind of our last-ditch effort," Small said.

Portland State OSPIRG members pleaded their case to the committee yesterday, with over 40 supporters sitting behind them wearing stickers and holding signs, emphasizing the group’s involvement in projects from voter registration drives to relief for victims of the Asian tsunami disaster.

"We’re asking for funding in order to function and achieve our goals," OSPIRG member Courtney Morse told the committee. "At our current level we are not able to function."

When asked what they would do with the money if they received their request, OSPIRG members listed possible campaigns such as promoting use of recyclable materials on campus and protecting oceans. Members also suggested that rather than focusing on new campaigns, the group could improve existing campaigns such as their effort to reduce textbook prices.

The SFC will make an initial funding decision by Jan. 26, and OSPIRG will have the option to appeal that decision in February.

In past years, the SFC has justified its funding decisions on the basis that OSPIRG has requested far more money than other student groups – the average SFC-funded student group receives about $13,000 – without being able to show to the SFC’s satisfaction that the extra money benefits students. The committee has also expressed concern that OSPIRG’s budget may violate an SFC guideline requiring that student fee funded groups must provide "an educational and/or cultural experience, or service on campus for Portland State University students."

In addition to PSU, OSPIRG has chapters at the University of Oregon, Southern Oregon University, Lane Community College and Central Oregon Community College. Each year, OSPIRG develops a single state budget that is then split between the five chapters. Each chapter shoulders a portion of the state budget proportionate to the number of students at each school. Money is then re-distributed to each of the five schools from the state budget as needed.

For the 2004-05 fiscal year, the PSU chapter was expected to provide $128,425 of the $386,610 total state budget.

The majority of the budget funds paid campus coordinators like Small, who receives about $19,500 a year, and other paid staff positions.

Last year’s SFC decision to fund OSPIRG at $33,765 was met with resistance from inside and outside the budget hearings. Students created a petition to "re-establish OSPIRG" at PSU, which was submitted to the SFC.

The group also submitted a $106,460 budget during the budget appeals process, and promised to spend $40,000 of that amount directly on the PSU campus. The committee ultimately denied the budget request.

After the committee made its funding decision, the student senate stalled the entire student fee allocation budget by voting to reject it. A letter was then sent to Portland State President Daniel Bernstine requesting that he review the fairness of the SFC’s budgeting decisions.

Bernstine then informed the SFC that he would not review the budget until the student senate had approved it.

The SFC ultimately prevailed, however, and OSPIRG’s funding remained at $33,765 for the year, although that figure was an over 50 percent increase from the previous year.

Each term students pay student fees as part of their tuition costs. The amount paid varies based on the number of credits a student has enrolled in. Currently, the fee is $94 per term for eight credits and $131 for 12 credits. Of the over $7 million collected in student fees each year, about $2,800,000 goes to educational activities like student groups and about $2,300,000 goes to PSU athletics, with the rest paying for student publications, the Smith Memorial Student Union and child care services.

Editor’s note
The Vanguard is among student groups that receive funding through student fees allocated by the Student Fee Committee. The Vanguard received $148,552 in student fees for fiscal year 2004-05 and has not yet completed the budgeting process for 2005-06.