Students have unique opportunity to dictate allocation of student fees
Budget season will be upon Oregon State University and for the next few weeks and students will have the opportunity to actively engage in the allotment of their student fees.
Throughout the end of January and beginning of February, students will have the option of sitting in on public budget hearings that determine how student fees are divvied up and used.
The Student & Incidental Fees Committee sponsors these public hearings and organize them each fall term.
The SIFC is a student-led organization that provides a neutral analysis of all student fee-funded bodies’ budgets. Made up of seven elected voting members and four ex-officio members, the SIFC exists to set recommended fee levels and oversees the entire budgeting process, according to the organization’s website.
Every year during winter term, the SIFC hears proposed budgets from student fee-funded organizations such as the Memorial Union, Recreational Sports and Student Health Services. Students are encouraged to attend the hearings and voice their opinions if necessary.
SIFC chair Priscilla Macy firmly believes in the importance of student involvement throughout the entire budgeting process.
“You can literally just be a student and find a way to voice your opinion and sway the thought process (in budgeting),” Macy said. “That’s the beauty of shared governance.”
The policy of shared governance at Oregon State means that students have a direct say in how their money is spent. Underneath this system, the Associated Students of Oregon State University have a vital role in the budgeting process, as well.
After the SIFC makes a recommended decision on an organization’s budget, the ASOSU Congress takes a look at the proposal. If the legislators agree with SIFC’s suggestion, the budget is sent to President Ed Ray for approval. Should the congress deny the proposal, the budget is sent to a special mediation committee, where all concerns are resolved before being passed on to the president.
“One of the most important duties of our body is to have somewhat of the final student say on how student fees are spent,” said John Varin, ASOSU Senate president pro tempore.
Macy expects a tight and tricky budgeting season, mostly due to unexpected changes and costs within the university system.
“There was an evaluation of all professional staff to bring them up to the market value of what their wage was,” Macy said. “It was a really good thing because it made the positions more competitive and it increases employee retention, but it was kind of unanticipated for us as a student fees committee because a lot of professional staff were what you would call below the market average for their wages.”
Macy said that although the evaluation will be beneficial in the long run, this year’s budget will have to compensate for the pay raises of professional staff who work for student fee-funded organizations.
Student employees do not count as professional staff and will not receive a raise unless the state minimum wage increases.
The SIFC plans to divide the raises among each organization according to how many professional staff they employ. Any organization that finds itself with a shortage of money may request a portion of the contingency fund.
The contingency fund is a special portion of student fees set aside for emergencies and unexpected costs throughout the year.
In addition, the change in the Oregon University System may affect the way student fees are handled this year and into the future.
“We’re not sure … how this board of trustees is going to affect student shared governance policies and student input into the whole budgeting process,” Macy said. “(The SIFC is) planning on working with the board to put our statement of purpose as students out there that we would very much like to still be involved in this process.”
Macy said that a major SIFC goal this year is to “figure out how many students we are serving, how we are serving them, and how effective we have been.” Any decisions and suggestions are made in the spirit of viewpoint neutrality, with the welfare of the overall student body in mind.
Viewpoint-neutral decisions are those made unbiasedly with the benefit of the majority in mind.
“What viewpoint neutral does not mean is that you have to fund every program,” said Victoria Redman, ASOSU vice president. “It also doesn’t mean that just because you fund one point of view, you have to fund the other point of view. It all depends upon the budgeting process and whether (the organization) follows the required guidelines.”
Overall, SIFC and the ASOSU hope to encourage and stress the need for student involvement and interest in the budgeting process.
“There has to be this transparency,” Macy said. “Often through the years we get lost in this idea of managing money and not necessarily managing operations in terms of benefiting the students.”
A schedule of all SIFC budget hearings can be found online through their website.
Student government reporter