Despite a wealth of extracurricular opportunities, campus life at Yale can sometimes feel, well, poor. Student groups find that the money they get from the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee cannot cover their costs. Club sports are so underfunded that participants often must pay hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets. While Columbia has brought in OutKast and Harvard has hosted Bob Dylan in recent years, the Yale College Council says we can’t afford better than Third Eye Blind for the Spring Fling.
That’s why we believe that this week, students should vote in favor of a YCC-sponsored proposal to create an optional $50 activities fee. The new fee, like that at every other Ivy, would devote more money to areas of student life that need it: club sports and other undergraduate organizations, activities sponsored by multiple residential colleges and events like the Spring Fling. And since students would be allowed to opt out of the fee — and it would be covered for financial aid recipients — it would not pose problems for those who cannot or do not want to pay it. As long as the fee supplements, rather than replaces, the money Yale already spends on student activities, it could go far in making Yale more fun.
But while we support an activities fee, we have concerns both about how the idea has been presented and about how it might be implemented. The YCC’s leaders deserve credit for backing an ambitious solution to long-standing problems, yet we are disappointed that the YCC has not yet engaged the campus in the kind of debate this issue deserves. The idea of a vote on the fee was only publicly announced two weeks before the vote itself; as of late Sunday night, the YCC still had not formally explained to the student body how and when voting will occur. And the fact that students have not been asked for input on the fee’s structure or administration inspires little confidence in the process through which the new revenue might be spent.
Indeed, if the fee passes and receives administrative approval, both the council and the dean’s office will need to do something they haven’t yet achieved: convince students that their money would do more than just subsidize the YCC. The creation of an independent committee to fund new activities across residential colleges is just a start, albeit a good one, toward making the funding of campus life more inclusive and transparent.
Moreover, the fee must be optional in reality, not just in principle — which means, first and foremost, making students aware that they will automatically be charged for the fee unless they request not to pay. Likewise, the YCC and the Yale College Dean’s Office should send clearly written materials to every student and family outlining what the fee is intended to pay for and what it paid for in the previous year. More than two decades ago, Yale scrapped its opt-out activities fee because students felt they were being scammed with a payment they knew little about. If the University reinstates an activities fee, it must make sure students do not feel that way again. To that end, both the YCC and the administration should pledge that if the fee is instituted, students will have a chance to reconsider the issue next year in a new referendum.
Projected to bring in more than $200,000, an activities fee is an idea worth trying. Next year, students should be able to decide if it is one worth keeping, too.