Political Roundup From the Weekend
Though the state budget has been postponed until March, student government and politics at Penn State saw a whirlwind couple of days this weekend. On Friday, the Student Activity Fee (SAF) Board met, as did the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG) on Friday and Saturday. Also at Council were the student government presidents at Temple, Lincoln, and Pitt, respectively, the second meeting of the Pennsylvania Association of State-Related Students (PASS).
The CCSG passed three resolutions. The first alters legislation regarding PASS so that all four schools have identical policies. The second is a statement of support for Capital Day, partnered with the Penn State Grassroots Network, and the third is an amendment to the Judicial Affairs Advisor Program.
PASS is definitely the pick of the litter there. “Coming together and having allies across the state is so, so important,” said Molly Stieber, student government President at Pitt. It’s true, but the question is: will it be enough? PASS has a rally already planned for Tuesday, February 15, and scheduled talks with legislators. However, I’m going to put on my Nostradamus hat here and say that, ultimately, us college kids are going to be politely, in a typical politician’s way, to go play in traffic. I sincerely hope they prove me wrong.
Continuing with the trend of burning holes in wallets, the Student Activity Fee will increase next year by $3 (from $79 to $82) for the thirteen campuses (including University Park) at the top SAF tier out of three. The other two tiers will see a $4 increase.
The Board, made up of both students and administrators, debated for an hour-and-a-half on the issue, and it’s clear that the main fault is the failure of the SAF mechanism to separate out the University Park campus. CCSG President Mohamed Raouda kept referring to how tightly the the activities budget at the Commonwealth campuses is stretched, saying that some of the fee was going toward wages, which though allowed, isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Clearly, they are going to benefit from an increase.
But because of the system where the Board is unable to create another tier, University Park has to take the $3 along with the other 12 campuses. If anything, amid the financial malaise and cutbacks, the SAF here should be going down. The idea of such a symbolic statement (because the dollar amount here is very small) was thrown around, but abandoned. University Park Allocation Committee Chairman Mark Donovan asked for a $5 hike that he said was necessary UPAC to operate next year at the same level it did last year.
But as we’re set to face, in all likelihood, cuts in state appropriations and a big tuition hike, the activities fund situation is startling. Donovan said that UPAC has “approved 96.53% of every dollar requested.” That’s great in an ideal world, but if we’re supposedly cutting back, the percentage should be nowhere near that, and nor is it at other campuses. And even though UPAC doesn’t cover the full cost of groups’ activities, calling a $3 increase a sacrifice is ludicrous.
University Park Undergraduate Association President Christian Ragland most notably voted against the increase. “The students I know who are having tuition difficulties aren’t in a student org because they’re working,” he said. Which is a very good point. But the problem is that UPUA is just as guilty as UPAC, in that they have so much money from the SAF that for weeks the Assembly has mentioned trying to find new ways to spend it, not the least of which is burning $15,000 by printing a freshman handbook whereas they could have saved almost all of that money by putting it online. Even the Chair of the SAF Board, Andrea Dowhower, cautioned, “Think of your own budgets.”
Throw in the proposed HUB expansion project, along with the other recent construction, and we’re looking at a pretty decadent Penn State over the next few years. And though it’s been suggested that the construction is funded solely by donations, there’s no way to know for sure since the University doesn’t have an open budget. They could be spending our tuition on coke and strippers in Hong Kong for all we know. And they’re talking about cutting whole programs while they “need” to connect the HUB and the White Building. How did we ever manage without that? As Raouda aptly asked of the Fee Board, “Where does it end?”
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Sandy Barbour will make an average of $1,269,000 per year as part of the new deal, which runs through August 2023.
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