The SFC argument

SFC Perspective

Tracy Earll
SFC Chair
Ultimately, the vision of student fees is to fund a community of vigorous debate and free exchange of ideas. At PSU, this vision is achieved when all student groups have equal access to student fees. The U.S. Supreme Court mandates that equal access must be provided in a viewpoint-neutral fashion. The SFC at Portland State must be without a social, political or ideological position. This vision is honored by the criteria set forth by our Guidelines and the ASPSU Constitution.

The seven-member SFC has worked diligently to hold themselves, and all students, accountable to these criteria. We endeavored to improve the process by helping student organizations through the entire process. The end result is an overall increase of $4, for a total of $135/term/full-time student, which is the lowest fee in Oregon. This increases the budget to nearly $8.1 million. This includes funding for seven new programs, and increased funding to several programs. Cultural groups and services received a 56 percent increase over last year; service and advocacy groups received a 37 percent increase.

These achievements naturally come with controversy. The very reason the student fee exists is to provide what the Supreme Court calls an "atmosphere which is most conducive to speculation, experiment and creation."

In this atmosphere, it is inevitable, and desired for students to challenge the decisions we make, and the criteria that guide them. This year, some students challenged the SFC’s reluctance to fund groups who had not submitted their accounting paperwork. Some students also challenged the SFC’s caution in approving budgets that were two to 10 times greater than previous years’.

Criticism is welcomed, and often incorporated, unless it infringes upon the viewpoint-neutrality requirement for mandatory student fees. It is the responsibility of the SFC to guard student fees from such infringements by upholding the criteria set forth in the guidelines.

Next year will be a vibrant year of numerous opportunities for the PSU student body. With over $8 million to fund student programs and services, athletics and the student union, student fees will continue to encourage a strong community, lively debate and a diverse marketplace of ideas.

OSPIRG Perspective

Meredith Small
OSPIRG Chapter Chair
Over the last two years it has been no secret that OSPIRG has been fighting to regain its funding. During that time we have faced many obstacles and difficulties with the SFC’s budget allocation process.

The SFC has applied its own guidelines inconsistently and unevenly, effectively stripping them of any meaning at all. The purpose of evaluation criteria is to establish equalizing standards that members with different politics and personalities can use to fairly evaluate budgets in a viewpoint-neutral manner. While we recognize that this is a human system and there is an element of interpretation, we believe that the SFC has clearly overstepped its bounds in recent years.

On the whole, progressive, multicultural and advocacy groups have received less of their requests compared to athletics, conservative student groups and ASPSU, who have received a larger proportion of what they’ve requested. Another example is how the Student Center for Dispute Resolution got no money because their budget wasn’t even considered due to eligibility concerns, even though SALP got funded despite the fact that they did not get the official support of the student-controlled SALP Advisory Board.

The guidelines are the critical check that protects student groups from bias and ensures that the SFC is implementing viewpoint-neutrality.

The SFC has failed to provide solid answers to the most simple of questions. During our appeals hearing, we asked each SFC member to explain what it was about the proposed budget that didn’t deserve funding. The SFC vaguely referenced the evaluation criteria, but never explained which one they had a problem with. Part of the problem here is that there is no mechanism for meaningful communication in the allocation process.

Student groups can only express themselves during hearings when the SFC members ask clarifying questions. The SFC can only express opinions during deliberations when the student group can’t speak unless spoken to.

It is the job of the SFC Chair to ensure that the SFC members are communicating with each other. A lack of communication has resulted in new information and concerns presented for the first time during deliberations. These concerns should be brought up during the hearings so that the student groups have a fair shot at a response.

The rulings of the SFC are often vague and arbitrary. At the end of initial deliberations we were left with $0 and a recommendation for $40,000. This number, however, had no relationship to the line items of our budget, compared to our budget proposal which actually reflects the costs of our program.

There are little to no checks and balances that hold the SFC accountable to the students they represent. When there are this many problems, and so many student groups who feel misrepresented, you would think that the administration – especially those paid for by student fees – would step in and advise the SFC members to reevaluate their job duties. That hasn’t happened this year.

These problems are bigger than just the PSU OSPIRG chapter. When SFC members refuse to evenly judge groups’ budgets using established evaluation criteria and refuse to take viewpoint-neutrality seriously, the student fee for all of Oregon is threatened.

Progressive Student Union Perspective

Lew Church
Progressive Student Union Coordinator
Portland State has an ideological bias in favor of sports and right-wing politics, and against progressive issues and groups. This corruption makes itself evident in everything from office space allocation to funding of progressive and multicultural groups.

Almost half of the SFC allocations, or about $3 million of the nearly $8 million allocated, goes to sports, which benefits a small number of students. And PSU isn’t exactly Notre Dame. A recent Oregonian story reported that PSU subsidizes sports for almost $4,000,000 each year, money that could go to academics and/or social justice/real-world learning programs.

When progressive groups vie for a chunk of that money, the response isn’t at all welcoming.

Progressive Student Union has sought funding to start an activist zine on campus for $6,000 per year and to get office space and funding of about $20,000 per year, only to be turned down for space and receive about 10 percent of our funding request each year.

Over the past two years progress has been impeded, time after time, but that’s all part of the "process."

For example, Progressive Student Union has coordinated the Progressive Film Series for the past two years. The series features international and independent progressive movies and 13 campus groups have endorsed the film program, including the Economics, History and Sociology Departments. When we’ve sought in each of the past two years to fund our film program at about $6,000 per year, SFC chair Tracy Earll has declined, noting that "no comparative program is funded" at nearly that level.

Our program is the only international film program on campus and we think learning about global diversity and international understanding should be at the top of any university’s educational goals.

Many student groups that have received tens of thousands of dollars per year in SFC funding and office space for decades, tend to forget that groups without space and little funding are basically doing their work out of their backpacks.

One student senator who recently quit the senate, a single mom, noted that there was no way she could continue to volunteer, spend time with her daughter, work and do school.

Are progressive and multicultural groups, including those representing low-income students, systematically being excluded from the life of the University? Will the bureaucracy of the PSU Administration and student Republicans create enough boundaries for students who are volunteering their time (not to mention trying to get As, see families and go to work) turn Portland State into a school mostly for affluent folk?

In campus media, the SFC’s role usually is confined to the annual binary discussion of OSPIRG versus SFC priorities, year after year. However, there are a number of student organizations and activist groups at our school, who do not even get the level of funding OSPIRG has been cut back to.

What is to be done? A possible remedy may be encouraging enough PSU students to vote for the progressive Devaney-Woon Slate in the upcoming ASPSU elections in March.

We don’t need to be attacking progressive student groups at Oregon’s "largest university." What we need to be doing is encouraging student participation in our school – not exclusion.

Spectator Perspective

Shahriyar Smith
Editor, Portland Spectator
The Student Fee Committee (SFC) process has grown to reflect the wisdom of its most important events and experiences. For years the process was a locus of problems: vague, inefficient and poorly equipped to deal with important problems. It was not until student leaders decided to improve the fee process that it became a model of fairness, openness and accountability in student politics.

The "student group" OSPIRG, for example, used to receive a check at the end of the year in the amount of their entire budget. They did not have to submit individual receipts to justify their expenditures. They just got a lump sum check at the end. There was no accountability. And when they did not get what they wanted, they simply ran referenda around the student fee process, or else tried to get their members into the proper offices of power.

They were given special treatment while all other student groups were held to a different standard. There was no accountability and no common standard to which all groups were held. The student fee process was not doing its best to serve students.

The SFC, over the last few years, has examined its process and gone above and beyond its traditional function of merely allocating student fees. It has drawn off of its experiences in order to change the process for the better.

I implore anyone who questions the fairness of the student fee process to simply read its guidelines. It has become more efficient, more accountable and more inclusive of student input.

What happened was that the SFC considered a question that had been usually ignored: "What happens after we are gone?" Any group of students can decide to simply make sure they end up with outcome they believe to be just, no matter what problems or difficulties they encounter along the way. It takes, however, a special breed of student leader to not only recognize the problem as systemic, but to care enough to extend the time and effort (going above and beyond required duties), to change the process so that future student leaders do not have to repeat their mistakes.

It is no longer necessary for student leaders to learn from the same mistakes, over and over again, due to a poor and ineffective process. For this, we owe the members of the SFC gratitude.

These student leaders deserve praise. Instead, they have been attacked. Aside from accusations impugning their professional reputations they are also subjected to wild conspiracy theories involving them and flyers that attack their character.

Those that benefited from an unfair process now have the audacity to call them biased and the process they have worked so hard to improve unfair. The definition of fairness they appeal to, of course, simply means: getting what they want. The groups and individuals criticizing the current fee process are the ones that have benefited least from its improvement. Just listen to their criticisms. Behind all of it is not actual disagreement with the fee process, but disagreement with certain decisions the committee has reached.

Anyone who wants to criticize the current fee system should do so in a productive and encouraging manner. A simple reading of the SFC guidelines leaves one impressed with the foresight and care of thought that crafted them. It’s time for groups and individuals that benefited from an unfair process to come to terms with its improvement, and give our student leaders the recognition they so rightly deserve.