Your IT Fee, Student Government, and You
You’re being charged, along with your tuition, an Information Technology Fee of $236 per semester (up from $230 last year). Similar to the Facilities Fee and Student Activity Fee, it’s not exactly tuition, but it comes out of your pocket if you are a Penn State student.
There’s been a movement in the works, involving the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments and University Park Undergraduate Association, to develop an official mechanism for student feedback for this fee.
“Originally, we were told there’d be no say,” said CCSG President Mohamed Raouda, who has worked on this project since the beginning.
Now, however, it seems that student leaders and administrators are close to setting up a student advisory position on the IT Fee Board, as is in place on its Facilities counterpart.
How The IT Fee Works
Raouda and UPUA President Christian Ragland stressed transparency in the matter.
“I refuse to accept that it’s ‘just complicated,'” said Ragland.
Therefore, says Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, they have “spent much of the time educating the student leadership on what the Fee is and what it is not.” Unlike the SAF or Facilities Fee, there is no “pot” of money to just be allocated; the IT Fee has certain direct expenditures (e.g., paying salaries), with some flexibility for administrators regarding allocation (e.g., “We’re going to allocate x dollars to updating eLion”). Therefore, to effectively represent student interests, representatives from UPUA, CCSG, and the Graduate Student Association are proposing to advise the IT Fee Board on how they believe money should be spent to best serve student needs.
“Mandatory fees exist on a continuum,” said Sims.
The fees, ordered from most student say involved to least, are as follows: SAF, Facilities, IT, and then tuition, where there is basically no student say at all. Students are in charge of allocating funds from the SAF, they have an advisory role in Facilities, and a potential advisory role with IT. It works differently than the two more student-influenced ones, however.
Said Sims, “We have tried to make abundantly clear that the unusually complicated nature of the IT Fee means that whatever function students may play in this context must be advisory only.”
How Things Are Changing
Originally, CCSG lobbied for a student spot to actually vote on allocation. However, after learning that the IT Fee is, in fact, very complicated, the proposal was scaled back to an advisory role. The most important aspect of the dealings is having a student voice on the Board.
“With transparency,” said Raouda, “you open the door to criticism, but you also open a very valuable door to student input.”
Both Sims and Vice Provost for Information Technology Kevin Morooney agree that “credible student opinion” would be of great value to the situation.
“We believe strongly,” Sims added, “that this process will eventually land in a place that gives students a legitimate and substantive opportunity to offer opinion.” However, he also cautioned that “students should reasonably expect considerably less opportunity to influence the IT Fee than they’ve been given with the Facilities Fee and nothing approaching the influence they have over the Activity Fee.”
Where It Stands Now
Student leaders have formally submitted their proposal to Sims and Morooney, who are working on a counter proposal. All sides are pleased with the direction the communication is taking, and are confident about getting a student advisor on the Board. Time is the only element left in the equation.
“SAF and Facilities took their time, too,” said Raouda. “The issues just need to be debated thoroughly.”
Both he and Ragland agree that this step is a “start,” and that they hope a student voice on the Board may lead to something more. They both said they didn’t think that they were asking for too much; they cited their elected responsibilities to get student representation for input on how the University spends the checks they write. So far, it looks like they’ll have their voice.